Friday, June 5, 2009

Thoughts on the big win for the Penguins (and the NHL)

It just seemed ... fitting.

The Red Wings were up 2-1 with a second consecutive powerplay. For a while, the game seemed like it would be Geno Malkin vs. the Detroit Red Wings. As superhuman as Malkin was playing, it was obvious someone else would have to step up.

All of a sudden, Jordan Staal muscled the smaller Brian Rafalski and scored a spectacular shorthanded goal. Easily the biggest of his career. After fighting through Red Wing checks and cycling hard enough to make Lance Armstrong proud through the playoffs, Staal received a rare reward for his rugged, determined play.

Then the floodgates opened. Despite a nice pass block, Malkin second chanced it to Sidney Crosby who got that SCF "Outbreak" monkey off his back with what would ultimately be the game winning goal.

With an uncharacteristically flustered Red Wings team on their heels, the Penguins did their NBA Finals impression with a display of passing that would make Dean Smith ejaculate into his Dockers. The tic-tac-toe play resulted in a gorgeous Tyler Kennedy goal and the game was effectively over at 4-2.

This was, almost certainly, the greatest single period in the short history of the Crosby-Malkin connection. If the Penguins beat the odds and raise the Stanley Cup, pundits will point to that three goal explosion as the turning point of the series. If not, it will be a nice bookend to Marc Andre Fleury's miraculous Game 5 performance last year.

Some scattershot musings from the game:

  • For my money, Johan Franzen is currently the most dangerous Red Wing. Watching him amble toward the net feels like rooting for a woman trying to escape Michael Myers (even though he walks faster than she runs). Please, Fleury, DO NOT go up the stairs/inspect that loud noise outside your house.

  • I expected a lot more from the Red Wings in that third period. Naturally, there were some tense moments but it was actually a lot more serene than expected. Do the Red Wings simply feel that they can win every game at home? Could it be a matter of arrogance?
  • Fleury really bounced back admirably at home. He played fantastically in Game 4 and also saved Game 3 in the second period. Detroit is going to be pissed in Game 5, though, so this is just the beginning for Flower. It might be getting close to the right time to start sanding down those goat horns, though.
  • Now, I'm no Red Wings expert. But I have to admit that I found the scratching of Abdelkader (or AfroGator) quite perplexing. One Red Wing who actually seems to age like a human is Kris Draper (although he'll be a bigger factor in Joe Louis Arena, where his world class faceoff abilities could make a difference).

  • With the notably low amount of powerplay opportunities, Tomas Holmstrom's impact has been quite minimal. Still, he's probably the best at what he does and could make a difference as these games become more contentious.
  • Henrik Zetterberg seems like he's really picked his game up in Pittsburgh. Marian Hossa might not be putting up points, but he really scares the shit out of me. (He's not worth ruining the Red Wings' cap space, though, IMO.)
  • Speaking of Hossa, Pens fans need to decide if they are going to boo him once and for all. They sound wishy-washy and it comes off as pathetic. Then again, even if it has nothing to do with his struggles, Hossa has been pretty quiet so maybe they should keep doing what they're doing.

  • I discussed this on Twitter, but the "OS-GOOD" chant started a bit early. I've always felt that goalie mockery should come in blow outs, not games that are still to be decided. You don't want to give a goalie more motivation, you want to kick him when he's down. Right?
  • The Red Wings must lead the league in defensemen who can keep the puck in the zone under duress. That shit's really going to stress me out going forward.
  • Special teams has been ENORMOUS in this series so far.
Just look at the Game-by-Game breakdown:

Pittsburgh: 1 for 3 (Game 4); 2 for 3 (Game 3); 1 for 1 (Game 2); 0 for 2 (Game 1)
1 SHG (Game 4)

Detroit: 0 for 4 (Game 4); 1 of 2 (Game 3); 0 for 2 (Game 2); 0 for 1 (Game 1)

With such a tiny sample, you can really have fun with stats that probably won't even hold up by the next game. For instance:

The Penguins penalty kill has tied the Red Wings Powerplay.
The Penguins powerplay has scored in all but one SCF game; the Red Wings Powerplay has only scored in one SCF game.

The bottom line, though, is that the Pens went 4 for 9 and the Red Wings went 1 for 9 with a SHG allowed. Going into this series, I figured the Pens would have a slight special teams advantage. So far, though, it's been a gigantic advantage.

  • This might be from the Department of the Painfully Obvious, but the Penguins' best chance to win one on the road is probably in Game 5. I don't buy into the Red Wings being "worn down" when they are a deeper team. Pavel Datsyuk might enter the building by Game 5 or 6 (or 7 or never), which would be a big boost.
Now, I'm an excessively negative fellow. But this is honestly the first time in this series that I think the Penguins could actually pull this one out. The Red Wings might be the better team, but the Penguins might want it more.

Chances are, though, that we'll find out a lot about both teams in the next 2-3 games.

I'll guarantee one winner after tonight:

The NHL, silly.


P-Mac. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P-Mac. said...

I discussed this on Twitter, but the "OS-GOOD" chant started a bit early. I've always felt that goalie mockery should come in blow outs, not games that are still to be decided. You don't want to give a goalie more motivation, you want to kick him when he's down. Right?

Couldn't agree more. I was at most of the Capitals' home run and the fans there had a similarly quick trigger when heckling opposing goaltenders.

Stomping on the name of Henrik Lunqvist during a blowout? Absolutely.

Heckling Mark-Andre Fleury when Simeon Varlamov is is only one goal-against behind, no matter how weak the goal that made the difference? Keep quiet until you win something.

jamestobrien said...

It must be a matter of having fans that "haven't been there before" in quite a while. I guess?

P-Mac. said...

maybe. I grew up with New Jersey fans who were equally obnoxious.

But to me, you heckle a guy like Brodeur when he allows a skidding puck to beat him, or Roy when he pulls the Statue of Liberty without securing the puck, or when 60-foot desperation shots find their way in. But a scant one-goal lead halfway through the second?

jamestobrien said...

Yeah, especially since Osgood has been pretty good in the playoffs this year.

NHL Network has a replay of last night's game on right now. Kennedy just scored on that ridiculous play. What a great game.

Joe said...

Game 4 was painful. Soooo painful...

I'm with you on the goalie chanting. I thought it was funny in both games when PIT would chant at Ozzie, regardless of the score, every time he gave up a goal.