The Pens are playing a very good Rangers team, led by the Leader of Leaders, the Class of the Classy, the man who was born via a C-Section (the C stands for Class): Marty St. Louis.
The real problem for the Pens is that they really only have 5 truly good players: Malkin, Crosby, Hornqvist, Paul Martin, and Fleury. On its own, that's not enough good players, but it's also not necessarily a reliable Gang of Five. Malkin is clearly not 100%, and doesn't have a point since March 28th. Crosby and Hornqvist are both playing very well, but they play together, and if there is one thing the NHL loves more than Marty St. Louis' class, it's when inferior players gang up to stop superior players. The Rangers have a roster full of inferior players to Crosby, which makes them perfectly suited to slow him down. Paul Martin is a stud, but he's playing 30 minutes a night, he's in his mid-30's, and he can't be blamed for checking his calendar for the day he becomes a UFA. He's a strong #2; he's not as strong when he has to be your #1 and #2 at the same time.
Fleury has had a really good season, but there's a "but" -- he isn't better than Lundqvist, and he has no margin for error. The Rangers are going to get a lot of A+ chances; Fleury can't allow goals on anything less than an A+ chance. He was justifiably voted team MVP and he performed even better than his solid numbers suggest -- the backbreaking, score-on-himself goals were notably absent from his repertoire this year. But fair or not -- and it is definitely fair -- that's not enough. A goalie's job is not to be the reason his team makes the playoffs, it's to be the reason his team wins the Cup. If Fleury doesn't play well and the Pens lose because of it, the fact that they wouldn't have made the playoffs without him is irrelevant.
The rest of the roster is less inspiring than Martin O'Malley. Look, I'll die on Chris Kunitz Island, but when I do, I'll be alone watching pucks roll off my stick and calling offsides on myself. Brandon Sutter came up big in Buffalo, and somehow scored 21 goals this season with mostly crappy linemates. That's not nothing, but if you ever watch him play, you also know it's not something. Blake Comeau and Beau Bennett are a lot of things, as long as those things don't include the words "second" and "line" and "winger." They're also named "Blake" and "Beau," respectively. Daniel Winnik is the Pascal Dupuis the Pens traded for in '08, not the one Pascal Dupuis became in 2011. I just got a 10-minute misconduct for Googling "Steve Downie stats." David Perron is on a Sutterian run of 0 goals and 1 assist in his past 12 games. Ben Lovejoy reminds me of this guy the Pens traded to Anaheim for a 5th round pick 2 years ago. I spent a month watching Rob Scuderi play 26 minutes against Buffalo last Saturday. Christian Ehrhoff may need to be enjoined from playing by a judge to protect him from another concussion. Ian Cole is ... you get the point.
Oops, I forgot Nick Spaling, which should be a team name at a local trivia night.
|"Tell me who is Nick Spaling, and what does he do?"|
308: Zach Sill
307: Tanner Glass
300: Craig Adams
299: Marcel Goc
297: Joe Vitale
295: Rob Klinkhammer
292: Brendan Morrow
291: Maxim Lapierre
Next time you feel lucky about getting to watch Crosby and Malkin every night, refer to this list.
So how do the Pens win?
The most obvious answer is "The Curse of Tanner Glass" which actually could simply be called "Tanner Glass." That the Rangers won the President's Trophy after -- AFTER!!! -- giving Tanner Glass -- TANNER GLASS!!! -- a 3-year contract -- A 3-YEAR CONTRACT!!! -- is a testament to how good of a team they are (and how dumb some NHL GMs can be). He's only playing 10 minutes per game, and normally those would be the 10 minutes for the Pens to pounce. Unfortunately, the Pens will likely counter with Craig Adams and/or Max Lapierre, during which time fans of both teams should turn their backs to the ice in silent protest.
How bad is Tanner Glass? In this extremely pro-Tanner Glass article, which is the worst article on the entire Internet (actual sentence: "You’re definitely not going to find a stat to back that up but you can see Glass talking s%#t nearly every single game"), it contains the following statements (only one of which is fake). PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS IS AN EXTREMELY PRO-TANNER GLASS ARTICLE.
- "Tanner Glass has gotten a lot of criticism."
- "The 31-year-old has been a popular scapegoat"
- "On the other hand, his offensive stats are atrocious."
- "For most of the regular season, the general consensus was that Glass was horrendous whenever he touched the puck."
- "But Glass actually isn’t as awful as people say he is."
- "There’s one giant elephant in the room that should really be addressed: Glass’ less than stellar play with the puck."
- "The only way Tanner Glass could be a worse person than hockey player is if he was Aaron Hernandez."
1) Hope someone on the Rangers finally gets hurt. Eight of the Rangers top 9 forwards played at least 74 games; the other one (Derek Stepan) played 68. That's an incredible run of good luck on the injury front. The Pens need at least two of these guys to get banged up. Lundqvist pretending to get assassinated doesn't count.
2) Steal a game at Consol. Game 3 could be played inside the kiddie pool at the JCC and it would be a more intimidating environment than Consol. If the Pens can steal just one of their three home games, they have a chance.
3) David Perron. By traditional standards, a lot of the Penguins are "due" (Chris Kunitz is 57 weeks pregnant), but none actually have the breakout potential of David Perron. Someone has to pick up the scoring slack with Crosby in line for the shadow treatment, Malkin hobbled, and Letang missing. Perron has to snipe a couple goals this series, and by "couple" I mean at least 4.
4) Dress 6 Defensemen. As best we can tell, Artistry came out swinging against Jim Rutherford & Co.'s butchering of the salary cap before anyone else did (@GTOGArtistry on Twitter), and even though we've been shouting about it to the 6 people on Twitter who interact with us, this has not gotten enough attention. Quite literally, the job description of an NHL GM is to field a roster. During the stretch to the playoffs, GMJR and his dozen sidekicks failed to do that. Absent the team plane going down, there is no run of injuries which can excuse this. If the Pens had missed the playoffs, this would have been a fireable offense (and arguably still should be). But hey, David Morehouse isn't upset, so why should we care?
October 8, 2014, Josh Yohe writes in an article titled "Penguins CEO confident that change at top will lead to spring success":
Botterill, meanwhile, remains a master of the salary cap, which was on display during the Penguins' roster moves Tuesday, when he figured a way to keep the team under the salary cap. Three players heading to Wheeling was part of the plan, as Botterill has mastered the ability to work within the confines of the cap.
*****END OF FLASHBACK ALERT!!!!*****
5) Get some breaks. Luck matters. In their 2nd round playoff series against the Caps in '09, the Pens won Game 3 in OT after a relatively harmless Kris Letang shot hit a body and a post before deflecting into the net. That was lucky, but it sent the Pens off and running. If Letang's shot had done what it does 98% of the time -- miss (the net) -- the Pens easily could have lost that series and Caps fans would have gotten to wait 3 additional weeks before their team lost a playoff series (the Finals, to Detroit, probably) in a hilariously humiliating manner.
The Rangers are better than the Pens, are playing better than the Pens, and are playing like a team confident enough to think it can make a deep run. And they probably can. The Pens are playing like a team that is trying to listen to its coach, but doesn't seem to have "it" -- whatever it is. We'll never know if the players would have felt some sense of relief had they missed the playoffs, but we can safely assume that as recently as last Saturday night in Buffalo, not a single player on the Pens, in a candid moment, would have said that this team was Stanley Cup caliber.
But that's the thing -- you don't really need to be Stanley Cup caliber to win a series (or two). You just have to be a solid team (check), with special teams capable of breaking out (check), with a goalie that can get hot (check), and go against a team that has a lot to lose and could get very tight very quickly (check).
There are two types of underdogs. Fun ones, like Ottawa, who come out of nowhere, get steaming hot, and who no one in their right mind would want to play right now. Then there are the depressing ones, like the Pens, who just seem to be stuck in the mud, unable to capitalize on a window that is getting smaller by the year. But the great thing about the playoffs is how quickly those feelings can change.
In 2013, the Pens were the loaded favorites with a returning Sidney Crosby (still not forgiven: Brooks Orpik) and like 8 captains. The team was light and loose, and was a genuine juggernaut. Or so it seemed, until Kyle Okposo let Fleury score on himself and the Islanders won Game 2. From that point forward, the Pens were the talented-but-deeply-flawed favorites with a shaky goalie, who sneaked by the first two inferior opponents before being exposed against an actual good team.
Maybe the Pens are a truly inferior opponent, like the Isles and Senators were in '13, and the Rangers can survive a scare. But maybe not. Maybe the Pens, with the two most talented players in the series and with nothing to lose, actually have a shot.
Even if that shot has to bounce off a body and a post before it goes in.