Listen to the podcast below or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here. Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.
OK everybody, time to wake up. Let's go, people! Attention, please. We don't blame you for dozing off after six weeks of meaningless games spent wondering just how Brian Gibbons might mesh with Jussi Jokinen and trying to convince yourself that it's important for the Penguins to play THE RIGHT WAY in front of Jeff Zatkoff when Crosby, Kunitz, Sutter, Maatta and Orpik are all out with upper bodies. Now it's time to buckle that chin strap a little tighter and re-focus. So what if the regular season is 20 games too long and the new playoff format only highlights the problem? That's enough out of you. It's playoff time, and the Pens are heading for a showdown Wednesday--not against Philadelphia or Detroit
1. Obstacle Overcomeability
This is always the most important category, because obstacles abound in the NHL playoffs. Down a goal late in the game? That's an obstacle. Missing a top forward? That's an obstacle. Is your goalie shooting and scoring on himself again? Obstacle. The Penguins have plenty of experience in this regard, and they've overcome some obstacles while slamming face-first into others. We know little about how these Blue Jackets will respond in the face of adversity. The promise of elite goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and a playoff coming-out party for Ryan Johansen can overcome a lot, but here's the dispositive question: can the Penguins win this series even with Jeff Zatkoff in net? You bet.
Determining which team has more Emergeability is a two step process. First, you have to ID the potential Emergers. Then, you have to evaluate their chances of actually Emerging.
The Pens have only a few potential Emergers, with Beau Bennett being by far the most promising, followed by Olli Maatta (he's already sort of Emerged), Brian Gibbons, and Jayson Megna.
Columbus has Ryan Johansen, who has already Emerged, but might still have some Merge in him that could take him to truly elite status. Boone Jenner is twenty years old, which is much scarier to us than if he were 27 (hockey is a young man's game). Matt Calvert (24 points in 56 games) could be OK, though we have absolutely no idea. We're probably missing some people but, newsflash, we don't watch a lot of Columbus Blue Jackets games.
A lot of people might give the edge to the BJs here because the Pens are the much more established team, but this is a very close call. The Pens are on notice of how good Johansen is, and Boone Jenner is playing over 17:30 a game -- they're going to be the focus of the Pens' defensive gameplan (to the extent the Pens have one) whether they deserve it or not.
But Beau Bennett is a different story. He lurks in the shadows behind much more established superstars, which is the perfect place from which to emerge. Bennett was squeezed out of the lineup in the playoffs last year, but it finally seems like he's going to be given a meaningful opportunity. Our expectations for Bennett are tempered by the reality of his production (3 goals in 21 games), but that's looking in the rear view mirror. The real question is whether you could score 4 goals in his next 6 games, and the answer to that question is definitely yes.
Pens' fans (including us) spent the majority of the season complaining about the obvious flaws in this team, an exercise that is part-tradition among a notoriously pessimistic fanbase but was also partly a subconscious attempt to lower expectations for this team so they could finally go into the playoffs as something other than an overwhelming favorite.
It was working, but then Columbus got the #7 seed.
Nothing against Columbus, but there is no way for even the most pessimistic, expectations-lowering Pens fan to view the Pens as anything other than a prohibitive favorite against the BJs. And then if the Pens win -- as is expected -- it will be very difficult to put the expectations back in a bottle. You can save the expectations game until the Pens -- if they win -- face what will be a daunting opponent in New York or Philadelphia. (See, we're already playing).
Columbus, on the other hand, has every hallmark of an underdog. They're middle-of-the-pack in most categories, have solid players but no singularly great performer, and don't stand out in any particular category. They're like Ottawa last year, but not as stingy defensively. It's not that they can't beat the Pens, it's just that they're a huge underdog when it comes to beating the Pens 4 times in 7 games. And sometimes that's a good thing.
4. Sex Appealability
|The Foligno Smolder|
|The Passion of the Bobrovsky|
|Woman on the right has seen this too many times.|
|Hugs babies that aren't even his.|
Joel Quenenville had a powerful mustache. Darryl Sutter has waves. Claude Julien is bald but owns it. We're not saying you can't win the Cup with bad hair, but we are saying that neither Bylsma nor Richards has great hair.
6. Game Breakability
We often obsess about the Penguins' lack of third line punch, reasoning that any elite team can effectively check two lines. It's that third line that separates great teams from the very good ones. Apply this logical and time-tested reasoning to Columbus, and you will quickly realize that--leaving aside for the moment the issue of a third line--the Jackets feature a second line of Brandon Dubinsky-Matt Calvert-Cam Atkinson. Yes, they have a Bottom 9.
7. Bottom Sixability
Just how bad is the Pens Bottom 6? Not as bad a few weeks ago, when it featured a third line of Brandon Sutter-Taylor Pyatt-Tanner Glass. But as much as we enjoy the totally competent Lee Stempniak, he's not carrying Sutter, Glass, Pyatt, Craig Adams and Jayson Megna/Joe Vitale to anything approaching suitability. Here's the only question: would we swap the Pens' bottom two lines for these guys?
We know Anisimov is big, skilled, and a bit of a Penguin killer. Corey Tropp is exactly the kind of little shit-disturber who can get under a superstar's skin and swing a series. No idea who Jack Skille is, but he sounds like a guy who played in the 1920s and had a trophy named after him. Mark Letestu is sort of like having Brandon Sutter as a third line center, but Mark Letestu is a fourth-line center making $1.25M. The rest of those guys CANNOT POSSIBLY BE AS BAD AS TAYLOR PYATT.
8. Boy Band Nameability
We covered this in comments to previous posts, but the Pens have a serious problem when it comes to their players' first names. Lou Pearlman, founder of Backstreet Boys and NSync, is definitely a Pens fan. Look at this:
That's not a hockey team, that's the manifest at the maternity ward at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. The Pens seem like runaway winners in this category.
Not so fast.
The Blue Jackets have Boone Jenner, a name that combines the worst of weird Texas oil man names with the worst of yuppie Los Angeles names. We're trying to come up with a more perfect combination, but are falling woefully short. (T. Madison McCombs? Red Pinkett-Smith?). Throw in AVN Performer of the Year Nikita Nikitin on defense, and this is actually a landslide the other way.
|First line center.|
The Blue Jackets have nowhere to go but up. The Penguins feature the Ill-timed Infraction Line ("ILL") of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen, a defenseman who once cross-checked a referee (and it wasn't even that surprising), and a goalie who observers cannot appraise without the qualifier "none of this matters if he melts down again in the playoffs." We think they have this category pretty much nailed down.
We understand the advanced stats, but we aren't going to throw out puck possession percentages, yell into the Internet ether about the Maple Leafs, and then circle up with everyone else doing the same thing so we can all pat each other on the back. There's a place for that, and it's called Twitter.
The Pens are a better team than Columbus. We can try to talk ourselves into being terrified of Ryan Johansen, but he had fewer points than Chris Kunitz and two more than James Neal (in 23 more games). He's not Pavel Bure. We can worry about Bobrovsky, but why force it? We can worry that the Pens bottom six is terrible, but if that ends up costing the Pens this series, then something else is terribly wrong.
What worries us more than anything is the lingering feeling over the last 5 years that under Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. That's a lack of Intangibility.
We'd comment on Columbus' Intangibility, but who knows?
Final tally: 4-4-2
That makes it look like an even series, but we're talking about Lou Pearlman and coaches' hair. And while there's no doubt that hair matters, Crosby and Malkin matter more.
Pens in 5.