The Pittsburgh Penguins Dilemma

Poker chips, large sum conceptJeremy thought this topic would be more interesting than another ROH bashing. I’m not sure his level of surprise when he IMed me this article from Deadspin but he did get me riled up enough to do this article. Here’s my take on their questions.

As I noted back on March 28th, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to go all in during the trade deadline. I hoped they wouldn’t go bust but here they are. My beloved Penguins went down in flames in four short games in the Eastern Conference Final to the unheralded Boston Bruins. They scored a measly two goals in four games. Two goals might not even allow you to win a game much less a series. I’m going to break this down into a couple of categories for what happened and what needs to be addressed.

The Games

One pivotal moment came in the Penguins first round series against the New York Islanders. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the franchise goaltender since being picked with the number one overall in 2003. He started at the NHL level for a majority of that time. The guy even backed the team that went to back to back Stanley Cup Finals in ’08 and ’09 and winning the later of the two match ups against the Detroit Red Wings. Fleury wrapped up the Stanley Cup victory with a diving save on Niklas Lidstrom. In those years, he had a save percentages of 93.3% and 90.8%.  For those that don’t watch hockey, anything below 90% is bad. Ever since that save though, he has fallen apart in the playoffs starting with a terrible showing when they played Montreal in ’10. He had a save percentage of 89.1%. The hope of playoff success was low in 2011 because Evgeni Malkin had blown his ACL and Sidney Crosby was sitting with a concussion. Fleury could have stolen a series against the lowly Tampa Bay Lighting but he posted an 89.9% and the Penguins got booted in the first round. Last year is when things went to hell in a hand basket. Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Penguins decided that playing defense was no fun so they turned the playoffs into an All Star game by potting goals at a ridiculous pace. Fleury gave up 4.33 goals a game for a 83.4% save percentage. He couldn’t even stop basic shots and when the defense is that bad you need that to happen.

He rebounded from the terrible offseason (I’m going to skip over that whole lock out thing because it isn’t relevant to this discussion) and helped to lead the Penguins to a first place finish in the Eastern Conference. The problems looked resolved with a first game shut out of the Islanders. Unfortunately, he gave up four goals in the next three consecutive games. Fleury’s stats aren’t online now but you can’t win many games giving away four goal. The Penguins did pull out one of the three games. Former starter Tomas Vokoun played Game 5 and never looked back. Vokoun had one bad game though and it was Game 2 against the Boston Bruins. The Pens went down 3-0 in the first period. Dan Bylsma, the Pen’s coach, decided to pull Vokoun and send Fluery back in for the first time in a round and a half. Pens Center Brandon Sutter came streaking down the right wing and sniped a shoot over Tuuka Rask’s shoulder to make it 3-1 with a minute left in the first. Brad Marchand, who scored a goal earlier, came down less than thirty seconds later and floats a goal over Fleury’s glove hand which broke the Pens back. All Fleury had to do was make a damn save on a wrister from about the middle of the circles and the Pens have momentum going into the second period.  The guy let’s a floater go over his glove hand? Christ on a pony.

Game 3 in Boston had a bad moment too. The Pens needed a win. Despite playing well, they played their way into overtime knotted 1-1. The referees called three penalties in the first overtime. Mike “Doc” Emrick, NBCSports play by play man, noted with each penalty how long it had been since that number of penalties had been called in a playoff overtime game. Evgeni Malkin got the third while tired and trying to flip a puck up over the defense of Boston for a streaking, fresh Sidney Crosby. It went over the glass half a rink away. The Pens finished the first OT with some penalty time to kill still in the next OT. They killed the penalty. Later in the period, Malkin steals the puck from Jaromir Jagr, an ex-Penguin, who then clearly hooks Malkin to regain the puck. The Pens didn’t have time to recover as Jagr dished it to Marchand who scored the game winner. Former referee Kelly Fraser was asked whether this call should have been a penalty and he ripped the referees for not calling the penalty. Even my room mate Baby Momma Drama, who was born and raised in Boston, had to admit upon seeing a replay that Jagr committed a penalty. None of that matter though because the referees on ice didn’t call it. The Bruins are up 3-0 and pretty much all hope is gone.

The Coach

Dan Bylsma has been under fire at various points in his tenure in Pittsburgh because he’s at the helm of a team that boasts two of the most talented players in the world, Crosby & Malkin. He won a Stanley Cup after Michel Therrien had been fired in February or March of ’09. From what I’ve read, he has had some innovative strategies that he’s brought into the NHL as far as puck retrieval, especially for defensemen, go.  Ever since then, it seems other coaches have adjusted to his strategies. Last year’s debacle against the Flyers landed Bylsma on the hot seat. Crosby wasn’t playing well against Claude Giroux so instead of getting away from that match up at home when they have the last change, he stuck with it. Malkin was getting frustrated by Sean Courturier but he stuck by that match up too. Jordan Staal, the defensive specialist amongst their elite centers, sat by twiddling his thumbs. It may have been for the “better” considering that the Pens penalty killing, number one during the regular season, which was anchored by Staal was stinking out the joint too. Did Bylsma change strategies on the PK? Nope.

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Penguins Trade For Jarome Iginla; Blow Up NHL Trade Deadline Day

Jarome Iginla Signed Cup

I’m still trying to process the news I read when I rolled out of bed: Jarome Iginla traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Pensblog. I had written the Penguins off from getting Iginla after trading for Brenden Morrow on Sunday. GM Ray Shero then decided to beef up the defense by adding Douglas Murray. I was content that they had addressed some pressing needs even though the team had won thirteen straight already. Don’t forget that a majority of this winning streak (the last eight games) has taken place without Evgeni Malkin in the line up. He only has two scoring titles, one Hart Trophy & one Conn Smythe on his shelf. Kris Letang, their best defenseman, had been on the shelf for the prior three games before breaking a toe on Tuesday which will again keep him out of the line up. Ray Shero decided to out do himself though and make the April 3rd Trade Deadline column Jeremy & I planned moot. Both big pieces of trade bait this year, Morrow & Iginla, are both with the Penguins now. The Penguins have decided they’re going all in this year before the salary cap shrinks next year because of the new CBA. One would think they’d give up elite prospects to grab the big catch of the trade deadline but they only gave up Kenny Augustino, a 5th round pick playing at Yale, Ben Hanowski, a 3rd round pick who plays for St. Cloud State, and their first round draft pick. Ray Shero wasn’t even generous enough to include a bag of pucks in the deal. I’ve got no idea how Jay Feaster has a job as a GM after giving up a franchise icon for next to nothing. That first round pick better be a home run. Meanwhile, anything less than a Stanley Cup is a bust for the Penguins this year. That’s a lot of weight to carry. I’ll hope this “All In” strategy doesn’t back fire. -Kevin

#UFConFox Coverage

towncrier

As noted recently, we’re trying new stuff here on Stunt Granny and we’ll see what sticks and what doesn’t. I have done round by round reviews on Twitter in the past but I’m at home chilling tonight so I’m bringing it to the main part of the site.

Matt Brown vs Mike Zwick

First Round – Brown had Zwick in a number of compromising positions but never quite got him into a major danger zone.

Second Round – Brown caught Zwick with an elbow that put him on the defensive. Brown drops him with a great combo. The left hook did most of the damage. Brown dodged a right just before the KO. WinnerMatt Brown (representing Cbus well, I might add.)

The UFC is certainly giving me plenty of time to catch up with a preview for Cain Velasquez vs Junior Dos Santos II and for the next fight.

Rory McDonald vs BJ Penn

First Round – The size difference is heavily in McDonald’s advantage. BJ is pressing but McDonald is doing a good job of using his length to defend. BJ has some great hands. He’s finding ways to close the distance. A McDonald elbow busts open Penn. McDonald is the aggressor at the end of the round.

Second Round – Nice, McDonald trains with Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’ve seen some of his work outs and imitated some of the exercises. McDonald is dictating terms. Penn is turtling up. McDonald isn’t going for the kill but is getting in a ton of shots.Joe Rogan is calling it target practice. You couldn’t say it better. Penn gets out of the round but he needs a KO or submission to win this thing.

Third Round – Penn tries to take McDonald down but to no avail. McDonald starts teeing off again.  He’s gotten lazy though since he knows he has the first two rounds in the bag. Winner – (Without hearing the cards) Rory McDonald. No surprise that it’s a unanimous decision. He goes pro wrestling and challenges Carlos Condit to a fight in March.

Maurico “Shogun” Rua vs Alexander Gustafsson

First Round – Rogan reminds us that just because the reach is the same, it doesn’t mean their legs are the same length. Shogun turning a trip into a positive. Rogan & Mike Goldberg thought he got  clipped. I disagree. Easy take down for Gustafsson but he does nothing with it. Shogun does holds down Gustafsson longer but  there isn’t much damage either. Fairly even round.

Second Round – Shogun is slipping in  some good pops with the hands early. He used his legs a lot in the first. Gustafsson had the mount but  gave it up to stand up. Gustafsson with a nice take down. Shogun rolls out quickly. Gustafsson taking over in the striking department. Gustafsson easy in that round.

Third Round – Already glad I taped an extra half an hour. Gustafsson with a take down. Shogun is looking a bit gassed. He gets hurt with a liver kick. Rogan talking about Shogun not being in good enough shape. I agree because he still has a baby gut. Gustafsson should win this round too. WinnerAlexander Gustafsson Unanimous decision

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