What In The Hell Is Wrong With The…Pittsburgh Penguins!?

Posted: April 18, 2012 in ALL II
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“I think there’s a little bit of shock and disbelief and disappointment in the situation of being down, 0-3, and how we’ve played.” – Dan Bylsma, Penguins Head Coach

The best series based playoffs in sports is enjoying quite a set of storylines and heightened media attention despite its games being aired on CNBC, NHL Network, and the often unexciting NBC Sports Network.  It should be noted that the Stanley Cup Finals are the best in series based playoffs for two very simple reasons that really cannot be debated.  First, the level of play clearly rises from the regular season to the playoffs.  This does not mean that players didn’t care in the regular season rather, all the teams shift gears and bring their top checking, stick handling, and goal tending (well supposedly).  Second, the nature of the game (scoring has been down every season since the most recent lockout in 2004-05) means that one goal will absolutely change momentum and parity can ensue.  Despite the differences in seeding, favorites can and will be upset.  Hot goalies will emerge and carry a team.  Injuries will change a series (re: Vancouver Canucks).  All predictions are useless.  Quick pace, high skill, energetic crowds, and intense rivalries have led more fans to the games and the increase in ratings by almost 50% compared to last year (along with steady ratings increases over the past three years).

One of the most curious situations is the absolute collapse of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the odds on favorite to emerge from the Eastern Conference.  Why did most everyone pick the Penguins?  Well history said so!  Most winners of Lord Stanley’s Cup were teams that scored lots of goals (all Stanley Cup winners since the lockout happen to be top ten goal scoring teams  – thanks ESPN Stats and Info).  The Penguins led the league in scoring and top ten in total points earned this season.  Their goaltending has lacked at times (2.66 GAA) but when you lead in scoring you can do that.  Oh and they happen to have the best player in the sport and probably the third best player too!  Healthy Sidney Crosby only played 22 games but it was clear that he was the best player on ice.  He earned 37 points in those 22 games (1.68 points per game).  Not to be outdone by greatness or limited sample size, teammate Evgeni Malkin was head and shoulders better than everyone else not named Crosby: second in goals this season (50) and accrued 109 points in 75 games (1.5 points per game).  No one even close!  Playoff experience and health on their side…should be a breeze.

Today the Penguins battle to avoid sweep.  Credit should be given to the Flyers who have dictated play with their aggressive forechecking and continuous pressure by launching shots on goal from the wing – testing the now lost Marc Andre- Fleury.  Fleury is on the hook for 17 of the 20 goals scored by the Flyers this series over three games.  Last year’s playoffs saw him give up 17 goals over 10 games.  Not good.  Malkin has fallen off the face of the earth.  The clear cut MVP candidate Malkin is goalless and has not played well defensively.  The confidence (arrogance?) that characterized the team during their 2009 run to the cup is gone.  The team is literally shell shocked and in shambles.  Exhibit A: Sidney Crosby.  Game Three saw Crosby (and the Pens) promote the aggression with Crosby instigating several encounters most notably moving Jakub Voracek’s glove as he was trying to pick it up and getting into a tussle with Flyers’ star skill player Claude Giroux.  His play has been decent for who he is but it is clear that the leader is rattled, the consistent star is missing, and the team is in shambles.  Nothing special is going on here besides a lack of execution by the Pens (against a less than spectacular Ilya Bryzgalov) and efficient play by the Flyers.  Once the X’s and O’s became dictated by the physical style of Philadelphia, the Penguins chances to win went out the window.  If execution is the immediate problem of the Pens, resolve is the greatest strength of the Flyers.  Despite holding a slight deficit in faceoff percentage, the Flyers respond to early Pens leads and prevent momentum from swinging during Pens comebacks.  Game three saw the Penguins score first and only lead for a total of 2:52 minutes of game time.  The Flyers own the pace, the momentum, and the execution that will lead to a series win.  Teams have comeback from three games down before – teams certainly worse than this Pens team.  Don’t count on it here; the Pens are lost in a playoff hell and no one can stop the bleeding.  It’s a matter of time before their glorious season will fall victim to the exciting and cruel reality of NHL parity.


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