Before we get going, this is good advice from Joe Starkey in the Trib: try to have some fun. With that in mind:
- The Pens should still win this series. We're not disrespecting Columbus -- they've played well -- but the Pens have two of the last three games at home and despite being outplayed for 30 minutes last night, still should have closed out the game. This doesn't mean the Pens will win the series, but even after all the craziness of the first four games, the Pens find themselves in a pretty good spot.
- Fleury is to blame for the Game 4 loss. We don't need reminded that the Pens looked like ass for most of Game 4 -- we've preached that as loudly as anyone. And the failure of the Pens' star players to produce is concerning, if not outright alarming. But the Pens scored three goals, and if this were any team but the Post-Concussion Pens, that would occasionally be enough to win a playoff game.
It's irrelevant that Fleury was the Pens' best player for 59:30 last night because when Jack Johnson dumped the puck in, that 59:30 was in the past. Fleury had one job: don't get scored on in the last thirty seconds. He failed spectacularly, then failed again in overtime. If this seems unfair, go back to what we wrote after Game 4 against the Islanders last year:
"Goalies are not judged the same as other players. By definition, a goalie's job is to mask the mistakes of his team. Every shot the Pens allow is technically a mistake by someone on the Pens because in a perfect hockey game, you'd give up no shots against. So yes, blame Kris Letang and Craig Adams for their idiotic turnover at the Isles' blue-line while shorthanded (or Letang for this idiotic play), but a goalie's job in that situation is to not fall all over himself and let a muffin of a slap shot sail past him into the net. Blame the team defense for allowing sustained pressure by the Islanders on Okposo's goal from behind the net, but for as bad as that was, remember: THAT WASN'T EVEN A SHOT ON GOAL. Goalies don't get to offset their bad goals by pointing to the saves they do make. If Flower stops ten straight breakaways then kicks a pass into his own net, he screwed up."Not all positions in sports are created equal.
|Lonely place. Stop the puck.|
- This team is in a bad place. Bylsma is calling out the effort of his team and his star players. When things start going sour on a hockey team, it doesn't take a press pass to the locker room to notice. So far, there are no signs that this team is in the right place mentally to make a deep run. The players can preach that they're confident in Fleury, but is anyone buying that?
- Crosby and Malkin must elevate their game. Immediately. The Pens can't put Tyler Kennedy in the lineup like last year to score a huge goal in Game 5. All they can do is put Taylor Pyatt in the lineup to accelerate the rigor mortis on the 2013-14 season. Sid and Geno's teammates have done a lot of the heavy lifting to get the Pens to 2-2 in this series. These two need to take their share of the burden. No excuses.
- If you're waiting for Brian Gibbons to ride in on a little white pony to save the day, it's pretty clear your best players aren't playing like your best players.
- Fleury isn't likely to get any more reliable any time soon. He's been too consistently unreliable in the playoffs since the Pens took a 3-1 series lead over Tampa in 2011 to expect anything other than: this will happen again. This will definitely happen again. When a goalie gets in the zone, teams often start passing up shots because they're looking for the perfect opportunity. Fleury is in the opposite of this zone. Columbus probably thinks they will score on every dump-in in Game 5 (and they might). They'll be firing pucks as indiscriminately as Alex Ovechkin on a power play against Florida in November.
- The Pens probably don't have a better alternative than Fleury.
|Focus on the right hand column. Those are Jeff Zatkoff's playoff save percentages.|
- If Vokoun is cleared to play, he should dress as the backup. There's an easy argument to be made that Zatkoff or Vokoun should start over Fleury, and I'm spending most of today having that argument with myself. But if Bylsma decides to go with Fleury -- and he almost certainly will -- a rusty Vokoun on the bench might be worth the risk. Or not. Who knows anything at this point other than a "rusty Vokoun" sounds like something unpleasant? Is he even healthy?
- If Fleury is at all shaky early, Bylsma needs to give him a quick hook. Life is short.
- The Pens are too scared about giving up another shorthanded goal. Play 4 forwards on the power play. PM is playing excellent hockey, but he doesn't need to play 4 minutes on the PP. He's the Pens most valuable defensemen and DB should conserve his minutes for even strength, especially the shift after the power play when the Pens have to put out their bottom 6ers.
The Pens are playing like they're scared to go to the net, which is probably more about the Pens being scared to give up a shorthanded goal. Crosby and Malkin are conspicuously avoiding taking the puck to the net, opting instead to loft soft passes to Paul Martin so he can loft his even softer slap shot to the net in hopes that it will be deflected by a lonely Chris Kunitz. James Neal is an asshole who takes a lot of penalties, but so what. He's dynamic on the power play. Get him out there in the high slot and tell everyone to stand closer to the net.
- The Pens are the easiest scary team to play against, maybe ever. The job of a GM is to construct a team out of parts that fit together, and Sutter-Megna-Bennett don't really fit as a playoff-caliber 3rd line. That's a line you put together on Xbox because they all have high offensive awareness ratings. Bennett is a nightmare in the defensive zone, Megna looks like he weighs 140lbs, and Sutter plays like he weighs 140lbs.
- Beau Bennett and Lee Stempniak need to get back to rotating. As we've mentioned, the Pens need some Emergeability, and Bennett isn't going to show consistent Emergeability with Sutter and Megna. And Stempniak is decent, but he's also kinda whatever. Despite Sid's failure to get on the scoresheet, the possession numbers at least show that he's spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. Where Bennett might look comfortable next to him.
- Why is it OK for Columbus players to sit on the boards with both legs in play while waiting for a line change? Noticed this several times. Full disclosure: I'm biased.
- We don't know what's going to happen.
Mobs were forming after the Pens lost Game 4 to the Islanders last year, but the Pens steadied the ship and won enough playoff games to earn the right (in Shero's eyes) to come into this season without making many changes. This year, the Pens are two OT bounces away from having swept the Jackets but they're also two two-goal comebacks from having been swept by the Jackets. We really don't have any idea what's going to happen over the next three games. As we wrote last year after Game 4 against the Islanders:
"The Internet makes the sting of the Game 4 loss so immediate and so pronounced, that this moment has a power over us that it doesn't deserve. Remember your history, and we're not talking about 2012. In 1991 the Pens played an inferior Devils team and split the first two games in Pittsburgh. Then they split two games in New Jersey. The Devils even went so far as to win Game 5 in Pittsburgh. The Pens were down 3-2 to the Devils going back to NJ facing elimination, WITHOUT AN INJURED TOM BARRASSO. Frank Pietrangelo - who was no Tomas Vokoun - makes The Save, and comes back to shutout the Devils in Game 7. Then back-to-back Cups happened. This is all based on memory, but our memories are good. The point is, no one has any idea what's about to happen. We're just along for the ride. "