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.