Post-Game 2 Analysis
As I walked into Mellon Arena Sunday, an usher yelled to me: “What do you think? Pens in five, right?”
I responded, “Hmmm, I think six.”
The look I got back was as if I had just suggested pigs could fly.
And this was about the tenth time something like that had happened since it became clear Montreal and Pittsburgh would match up in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every time I’d say, “Pens in six” the person who I was speaking with responded as if I was committing some sort of blasphemy by making that suggestion.
“No way! How could you even say that? Pens in five. Maybe even a sweep. In fact, maybe Montreal might just quit after three games.”
Well, the cliche in pro sports playoffs is, the series doesn’t start until one team wins on the road. Well….guess what.
Just as Ottawa (another allegedly overmatched Penguin appetizer en route to a Stanley Cup defense) did in round one, the lesser seeded Canadiens skated into Mellon Arena and grabbed one of the first two games of their Eastern Conference playoff series. One major difference is this: Montreal has Jaroslav Halak in goal….not Brian Elliott.
And Halak looked like the guy who shutdown Washington’s vaunted offense over the last three games of his teams monumental first round upset. He stopped 131 of the final 134 shots he faced against the Capitals. He stopped 38 of 39 at Mellon Arena.
Meanwhile Marc-Andre Fleury only stopped 18 of the 21 Montreal shots he faced. That was to the delight of far too many Montreal fans who made the trip down to Pittsburgh and invaded Mellon Arena during Montreal‘s 3-1 victory in Game 2. Most of them were sitting directly behind Fleury in a larger than normal visiting section of fans.
“It’s not about matching him,” said Fleury afterwards. “I just need to do a better job of making the saves to help my team win.”
Fleury is right. And none of the goals against him were really poor. Pittsburgh’s bad defensive zone coverage and turnovers and penalty killing were the eye catching culprits which lead to Montreal points. That said, it would be nice if Fleury could steal a game the same way Halak has for about three weeks.
Yet most of the focus in the Penguins dressing room after the loss on Sunday was about the Penguin play in the offensive end of the ice. Pens coach Dan Bylsma spent most of this week talking about how it would be important for his players to be selective in their shots against Halak. The players seemed to listen, scoring five times on 23 shots against Halak and back up Carey Price.
But the Pens seemed to perhaps buy into that theory a little too much in Game 2, especially on the power play. The Pens went 4-4 on the man up Friday. They didn’t get a power play until very late in the second period Sunday. And they wound up with three uneventful extra man efforts before the defeat was done. That left Bylsma to call for more shots in Game Three.
“I don’t think we took our shooting opportunities. I think we passed the puck around the perimeter and we didn’t get that puck to the net. In game one, we shot the puck to the net within seven seconds each time on the power play. I don’t think we established that shooters’ mentality in game two,” said Bylsma.
Ok, so now I’m confused. The day they shot less, and were more selective, they actually shot quicker? And the game they nearly doubled their shot total, they didn’t shoot enough?!
I actually do understand and believe everything Bylsma is saying. But maybe they are all just thinking about this stuff too much. Maybe they should just shoot, skate, and play hockey. Maybe they should just realize they are the Stanley Cup champs and the Canadiens are an eighth seed who barely made the post season. Maybe, as Matt Cooke says, they should stop trying to turn every win into a hockey virtuoso.
“The first half of the first period we were all over them. But for whatever reason, we decide to get cute. You’d think we’d learn our lesson by now,” said Cooke, Pittsburgh’s lone goal scorer Sunday.
Yeah, you’d think. Especially after the Penguins lost Game 1 against Ottawa in a similar fashion after a quick early goal. And after they nearly blew a four goal lead in Game Four of that series. And how they blew Game Five of that series too.
But whatever, who’s counting?
It’s for reasons like that which Cooke points out, because of Halak, because of the inconsistent power play, because of the sloppy defense, and the overly thought out offense that the Penguins have found themselves in a series. And make no mistake about it, this is a series against Montreal.
Just ask the Caps. Those things can be dangerous. Or, well, at least last more than five games long… believe it or not.