Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sometimes teams lose games; Pens lose to Columbus, 4-3

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

If you picked the Pens to win this series in anything more than 4 games it means you knew the Pens were going to lose a game.  This was not a meltdown, this was not a choke-job.  It was a flawed team losing a game in large part because of its flaws, which we all knew existed for the past 7 months.  If you have herpes, don't act surprised when you have a breakout.  There is no doubt that the Pens are going to lose many games in these playoffs, so all we're going to worry about is whether they can win 3 of the next 5.

- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin did not have particularly good games (and I thought Crosby was the worse of the two).  They will need to be significantly better next game, but put the shovel down for a moment and hold off on the burial.  Crosby had two points -- yeah, they were secondary assists, but if it's so easy to get secondary assists, why doesn't everyone do it?  On his first assist, he maintained his balance behind the net and got it to Niskanen.  On the second, he made a backhand pass that only he makes.  It's not a coincidence that the Pens scored when he was on the ice.  If one is of the mindset that Crosby was some extra-special kind of awful last night, it means he needed to have at least three points for this to be considered a good game for him.  Does that say more about Crosby or about the team?

- As bad as 87 and 71 were for their standards, kudos to them for maintaining their composure.  Brandon Dubinsky is going out of his way to be a dick, and he was doing such a good job that he got in his own head and took two really stupid penalties.  I don't know whether than makes Dubinsky the worst troll ever or the best troll ever.  Regardless, this is where the Pens lost the game -- the four straight power plays in the second and third period.  This is a team that relied on the PP all year.  When it fails, it looks really ugly.

- Speaking of the PP, the shorty Columbus scored in Game 1 spooked Dan Bylsma into playing two defensemen on the PP, and the shorty last night seemed to basically cement the philosophy that the Pens need two defensemen on the PP to protect against a shorthanded goal.  This is a mistake.

Since 2011-12, James Neal is second in the entire NHL in power play goals (trailing only Ovechkin, and despite missing a lot of games).  It is too big of a sacrifice to keep him (or Kuntiz) on the bench in favor of Paul Martin in an effort to prevent a shorthanded goal that you really should have no problem preventing anyway.  PMPM is playing tons of minutes.  He doesn't need to play 9:31 on the PP.

- On the subject of ice time, a close examination of the time-on-ice stats clearly shows an underlying problem with this team -- the inability to roll four lines.  In an 81 minute game (played mostly with only 11 forwards), Tanner Glass and Craig Adams played only 11:26 and 11:31, respectively.  If you have a decent fourth line, they should be around that number in a regular season game.  They are nothing but designated penalty killers at this point.

- And a deeper look at the ice time numbers shows a possible explanation for why Crosby and Malkin looked off last night -- they are playing tons of minutes.  In an 81 minute game, Crosby played over 30:34 and Malkin played 29:01 -- that's a lot of time for a forward, especially ones who are targeted like they are and, particularly in Crosby's case, have to take on significant defensive responsibilities as well.  Only Paul Martin (34:07) played more than them.  No forward on Columbus even played 24 minutes.

The other OT games so far in these playoffs provide a nice comparison.  Montreal/Tampa Game 1 was over 78 minutes long -- Plekanec (24:26) and Stamkos (27:31) logged the most minutes, respectively.  St. Louis/Chicago Game 1 was over 100 minutes.  Toews (32:37) was the only Blackhawk with more minutes than Sid played last night.  For St. Louis, Steen (35:33), Sobotka (30:34), Schwartz (33:15), Ott (30:53), Backes (33:33) all played longer than Sid, but Sid would have dwarfed those numbers if the game went another 20 minutes.  And in Minnesota/Colorado Game 1, which lasted over 67 minutes, Parise (23:09) and Landeskog (25:56) were the only ones who would get close to 30+ minutes if that game had gone to a second OT.

When you're the best and highest paid players, you are expected to play tons of minutes and play them well, so 90% of me says "tough shit" and gets mad when they have bad shifts.  But the other 10% of me could understand their frustration if they wanted a little more help from their friends.

- If you want something to worry about, worry about Kris Letang.  He's been the Pens' worst player over the first two games (including Tanner Glass) and it hasn't been particularly close.  Doctors say he's healthy, and there's no reason to doubt that.  But he's playing like ass.  Pierre McGuire sounds like he wants to jump onto the Pens' bench, grab Letang by the shoulder, shake him and scream, "KRISTOPHER LETANG!!! GET IT TOGETHER KRISTOPHER!!! LOOK AT THE WAY MATTY IS PLAYING!! PLAY MORE LIKE MATTY!!! KRISTOPHER!!!!!!!!"

- Another reason to potentially worry: if Brian Gibbons is out next game.  The Pens have no margin for any forwards to be out.  But a bigger worry than that would be if Taylor Pyatt dressed as a replacement.  If that happens, then it will be clear that Shero and Bylsma have lost it.  Gibbons' solid play over a game and a quarter showed that it's more important to have one elite skill than it is to be huge and have no skills whatsoever.  Gibbons is tiny, but at least he can skate like an NHL player.  Pyatt has no skills.  Not a single one.  If the Pens are forced to bring in another forward, it has to be someone who can at least do one thing well.  That should probably be Megna because he can skate.  The second choice would be Engelland because he can eat up some minutes on defense and (CRAZY IDEA ALERT) shift back to defense full-time when the Pens finally realize Letang is killing them on the blueline and move him up to play forward on the 4th line.

Wait.  That's not that crazy of an idea.

Ultimately, everything that's happened so far -- good and bad -- is consistent with how this team is built and how it's played all year (with a sprinkling of off night for Sid and Geno on top).  If you're panicking now, it just means you haven't been paying attention.

Go Pens.


  1. Wow. You guys are the opposite of the, "sky is falling," crowd. Interesting.

  2. Sky may be falling. But if it is, it's been falling since October. Nothing that happened last night (other than Letang's continued regression into being a complete liability) makes the situation any more dire than it has been all season.

  3. Keys to winning this (or any) playoff series for the pens:
    1. Start Vokoun
    2. Promote Jacques Martin (that means demote Disco)
    3, Sid or Geno should score a goal or two. Or three or 4 would be nicer. As should Neal and Tanger. Yes Tanger. Our D (and the D on all playoff teams) always chip in some goals. Tanger has in the past and we'll need some this post season. Well, if we want to continue in the post season.

    1. Mr. Anonymous, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

      Or you're just doing some high level satire...

    2. Hmm. Let's discuss:
      1. Vokoun has proven he's better than our starting goalie. Start Vokoun.
      2. Disco Dan is awful. Stop being a biased pens fan and realize he really hasn't done much. He ruined USA's chances at winning ANY medal. His past 4 playoffs have been embarrassing. Oh and why do you think 66 hired Martin in the first place?
      3. Please tell me how many goals sid and geno have scored? As for assists, yes sid has 2 secondary assists.

      So please tell me why these thoughts are 'insanely idiotic'... I'm waiting...

    3. I don't know why I'm engaging with an obvious troll, but your top 2 points:
      1) Replace a goalie who has been playing great but left out to dry for a guy who hasn't played meaningful hockey in almost a year? If you think MAF has been in the top 5 of reasons why the Pens haven't been playing well, then I guess this is a pointless argument.
      2) Yeah, let's demote our coach after game 2 of the playoffs. That doesn't reek of desperation. Plenty of successful teams abruptly strip the head coach of all his duties in the middle of the playoffs. It's 2 games in, get a grip.
      3) The only point I agree with, though not to your extremes of 3 or 4 goals. I would say the combination of Sid/Geno/Kunitz/Neal need to chip in 2 goals a game. if not more. Considering they've scored 1 in their last 6 games (Kunitz, Game 3 against Boston), that needs to change.

    4. So lets go back to MAF. You still planning on playing him in Game 4? I hope not... (if you do, it's clear that you are a blue jackets fan)

  4. What little of the sky was left fell in December when Dupuis went down.

  5. I think it is time that we address the elephant in the room:Crosby's status as the best player in the world. He sure hasn't looked like it in the playoffs the last few years. Please don't give me Crosby's playoff ppg statistic because I don't buy that argument. He has made a living picking up playoff points in run away games against teams that shouldnt even be in the playoffs. It's like a gabby sanchez hitting a home run when the Pirates are leading 7-1. How many 3-2 games have the pens won because of Crosby scoring goals? Not many.

    Furthermore, I could count on one hand the number of playoff series where he was the best player on the ice for that series. 2009 Stanley cup finals: 1 goal, 2 assists and a minus 3. He is the Peyton Manning of hockey. Best regular season player in the league, but for whatever reason chokes in the playoffs. He just is not the same player. Maybe the playoffs are too physical for him.

    I think everything I said above pretty much applies to Malkin as well, but there are less people (very few) beating the Malkin is the best player in the league drum. The star players have to produce. Look at the Ducks, Getzlaf and Perry steppin- up. Even the Blue Jackets have Bubble Toes and Johansen elevating their games.

    A few more random thoughts:
    1. Scuderi and Letang are beyond awful. Bortuzzo should replace one of them.
    2. Craig Adams and Tanner Glass are mid-level AHLers.
    3. Fluery played a hell of a game last night.
    4. Sutter and Nisky played very solid.
    5. DOUBLE SHIFT MALKIN/CROSBY and dress a 7th d-man.

    1. So despite hard statistical evidence that he's the best player in the world, you're unconvinced. If you think the three guys ahead of him in points per game in playoff history didn't grab a crap load of their points against easy teams in the earlier rounds (which were easier matchups than they are now, for the most part) then you're living in a fantasy world.

    2. He hasn't come up big when they needed him the most. He must be too small for playoff hockey. One big hit (Dubinsky) and he looks like a fish out of water. He rarely is the best player on the ice in a playoff series. Unlike you, I'm not blinded by an inherent Crosby fan boyism. Keep drinking the Kool-aid as we lose another series to an inferior opponent, but hey, we got the best player in the world.

    3. I find the Crosby hate a little bizarre considering his record. He had one of the best playoff years of all time in 2008-2009, with 31 points in 24 games (including 15 goals). There was a bit of a drop-off the following year (an Olympic year, incidentally), when he had 19 points in 13 games, but not much. Then the injuries hit. He was out in 2010-11 and a shadow of himself in 2011-12 (he still had 8 points in the 6-game debacle against Philly). Last spring, he was injured again. If you think having your jaw wired shut and wearing a Rick Vaive helmet doesn't have a major impact, you're totally unrealistic. He still had 15 points in 14 games.

      Now we're two games into the playoffs in Crosby's first healthy season in 5 years, and he's a playoff choker? If the Pens lose in round 1, no one escapes blame. But might want to let this play out a bit.

      We were all very spoiled watching Lemieux and Jagr. Best center and winger in history, arguably. And we were even more spoiled watching them play in an era when no team could effectively check them for 60 minutes. Times have changed, teams are deeper, defensemen are better, and coaches are smarter. You want Crosby to have any chance to look like they once did in the playoffs? Send him back to 1992.

    4. I agree with your points re: the depth of teams and the talent of defenseman. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, Crosby just doesn't look like the same player in the playoffs as he does during the season (dominate). It seems like the slightest bit of physical play puts him off his game.

      I also agree that maybe I was too harsh on him the last few years due to his injuries, however, what I am talking about goes beyond points. He just hasn't been the best player on the ice in many of these playoff series. He doesnt seem to be able to take over games the way 66 or to a lesser extent Malkin can (not talking this year obviously). It's really an eye-test type of thing.