Enough Is Enough

The Penguins just lost 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Consol Energy Center.  It was a game where Tampa Bay did not carry the play nor have the majority of the scoring chances, but they had high quality chances and capitalized where the Penguins didn’t.

This game had very weird, and also very unfortunate, moments for both teams:

  • The Penguins’ Kris Letang was hit from behind by Lightning forward Ryan Callahan into the boards.  Interestingly, Callahan received a 5 minute major, but not a game misconduct.  This hit will be looked at by the league for sure, and Callahan could very well be suspended.  Letang did return and played the rest of the game.
  • Lightning goalie Ben Bishop had to be carried off by a stretcher in the 1st period after falling awkwardly on his left leg.  Although no one is exactly sure what the issue with Bishop is yet, it seems unlikely he will return any time soon.  Vasilevskiy finished the game for the Lightning.
  • Tyler Johnson, Lightning’s top line center with Steven Stamkos out, was hit knee on knee by Kunitz against the boards.  Johnson exited and needed help off of the ice, but he did return.
  • Brian Dumoulin got hit hard into the boards and went down to the ice and appeared unconscious.  He did not return.

Despite injuries to both sides, the Lightning players stepped up and buried the opportunities that they needed to bury.  The Penguins did not.  It really is that simple.

The first Lightning goal was simply Olli Maatta getting burned.  Again.  Hedman fired the puck down the length of the ice to Killorn who was waiting at the blue line.  Maatta had awful position on him, and allowed him to skate right on in, and Killorn made no mistake on the breakaway, beating Murray 5-hole.

The second Tampa Bay goal came on the power play, as a shot was deflected in front from a point shot and found a wide open Palat who had a 4 x 6 staring him down.  He didn’t miss, either.

The final Lightning goal came off of a bad pass from Malkin that could not be handled by Dumoulin.  The result was a 3 on 1 for the Lightning, and it only took 1 pass and a one-time shot by Drouin which put the Lightning up 3-0.

Hornqvist would add a power play goal late in the 2nd, but the game had already been decided by that point.

Although the Penguins out-chanced the Lightning and even out-shot them, I did not feel like they came out with any type of desperation at all.  I just never sensed it.  This could be attributed to coming off of 2 series wins against 2 of the Penguins’ biggest rivals.  It could just simply be that they weren’t ready.  Regardless of the reason, the Penguins need to buckle down and win game 2.  If they fail to do so, this series will be a quick one, and might not even be coming back to Pittsburgh.

Although the Penguins did not play their worst game, enough is enough.  Well, what do I mean by that?

Maatta has gotten his fair share of chances, and yet he continues to get burned by the opposition.  Enough is enough.  He is a smart kid and I still like that the Penguins signed him to a 6-year deal, but ever since he’s battled back from injuries this year, his reaction time and skating has been too slow, especially against a fast Tampa Bay team.  The guy is pretty much a lock for at LEAST 1 breakaway allowed per game.

Oh yeah, also considering the Penguins have Justin Schultz on their bench who skates very well, has great speed, and has been on the ice for five goals against since being aquired by Pittsburgh.

Sorry Olli, enough is enough.  If Sullivan knows what he is doing, Schultz should play game 2 and Maatta should sit.

The Penguins need to learn to shoot when they have a high scoring chance.  Enough is enough.  I saw the Penguins not shoot on a 2 on 1 OR a 3 on 2, both of which occurred in the same minute or 2 span.  Quit trying to make the pretty play and get some garbage goals.  Oh and shoot when you have odd man rushes.  Take a note from Tampa, they had 2 tonight.

Also the Penguins were lacking net front presence tonight.  It seemed like their shots would either be blocked, or Vasilevskiy/Bishop saw it the whole way.  I don’t care who is in net, both of these guys are good.  Yeah sometimes the bounces will go your way, but the Penguins need to shoot the puck with traffic in front if they want to win game 2.

Finally, and probably the biggest issue, Malkin and Crosby need to start producing…and I mean NOW.  Enough is enough.

genosid

I get that these 2 along with Kessel are 3 of the only active 4 NHL players that have above a point per game in the playoffs, but they sure aren’t living up to that recently.

Both players played very well against the Rangers, and as a result the Penguins toppled them in 5 games.  Meanwhile against Washington, the Penguins received 1 goal from Crosby and Malkin combined.  One. measly. goal. AND it was scored in game 1 from Malkin.  Neither Sid or Geno scored in games 2-6 of the Washington series, and neither of them scored in game 1 against Tampa Bay.

I understand that there are plays made that don’t show up on the score sheet.  I know these guys want to score.  But they haven’t.  They got away with it against Washington, but it is only a matter of time before the Penguins begin to slide without their top 2 players producing.  And for that matter, Letang has been very quiet offensively, too.

However I think it is time that just “making a good play here and there” and “playing hard” just isn’t enough for Sid or Geno.  Malkin did have some good looks on the power play, as did Sid, but to me neither player really seemed like they had that extra push or energy to jolt them over the top.  Neither of them looked like generational talents. This is a huge issue for the Penguins going forward. It helps to have depth scoring, but they can only pick Geno and Sid up so often.

So, how do the Penguins get Geno and Sid going?  Here are my thoughts:

  • Sid needs to have a shot first mentality.  He has always been his best when he shoots before he passes, but he seems to be deferring way to often lately.  He had an assist on Hornqvist’s goal, but Sid needs to start shooting the puck. Period.
  • In the words of @EvgeniMalkinEgo on Twitter, Evgeni Malkin has “two pieces of cheese as linemates.”  He isn’t wrong.  It is hard for Malkin to get going with the likes of Fehr and Kunitz, neither of who are stellar offensive players.  Rust is the only somewhat legitimate offensive player that could plug in on Malkin’s line, but he admitted to not liking playing with Geno due to their clashing playing styles.  My solution?  It’s Daniel Sprong time.  The kid has a shot and isn’t afraid to use it.  The Penguins need to give Malkin a somewhat legitimate forward to work with, and Sprong fits the bill.  Will that actually happen?  Never in a million years.  Should it happen?  In my opinion, yes.
  • My final idea: play Geno on Sid’s wing. Kessel, Bonino, and Hagelin is your 2nd line regardless of where Malkin plays. Why not try to get both Sid and Malkin going by playing them both on the top line? It’s an idea that the coaching staff should seriously entertain, considering I doubt they will recall Daniel Sprong this year unless it becomes necessary.

Until Malkin and Sid get going, this series will be a short lived one for the Penguins.

Game 2 is Monday night at Consol Energy Center.  A win for the Penguins could be a huge momentum builder going into Tampa Bay.  A loss puts them down 2-0 in 2 home games to open up the series, and the Penguins are lucky to come back to Pittsburgh for a game 5 if that is the case.

Enough is enough.

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Enough Is Enough

Murray or Fleury?

matt-murray-marc-andre-fleury-900x506In game 5, Matt Murray stopped 16 of 19 shots.  Although his stat line in this game was not exactly impressive, (.842 save percentage and just above a 3.00 goals against average) you can hardly blame the kid.

The first goal he allowed was an absolute howitzer of a one-timer from Ovechkin.  Not much Murray could do on that goal.  Ovechkin made a great shot, and the defense needs to start reading that play.  It’s almost way too predictable, but its starting to work.  Ovi has been taking that shot all series long, and it was only a matter of time before he scored on it, and he will continue to do it until the Penguins shut it down.

The second goal he allowed was on a near identical play.  Ovechkin let a one-time shot go, although this time Murray made a great pad save.  However, TJ Oshie outworked the Penguins defense in front and knocked in the rebound.  Again, Murray could not have done much to prevent that goal from happening.

The third and final goal for the Capitals was one Murray probably could have stopped, however you can’t put all the blame on him.  Brian Dumoulin attempted to clear the puck and put it right on the stick of Justin Williams, who could have sat down and enjoyed a nice 3 course meal before shooting the puck while skating in on Murray.  The puck went 5-hole, but Williams never even gets this golden chance without the turnover from Dumoulin.  In addition, the shot was deflected by a Penguins stick, and did not go where Williams intended.  If he gets the shot of clean, Murray just may have made the save.

And yet, many Penguins fans, analysts, and even nhl.com are claiming that Fleury may, and even will, get the nod in game 6 on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Ha. Ha.

Wait, this isn’t a joke?

Matt Murray should be your starter in game 6.  And if the Penguins lose game 6, he should be your starter in game 7, and potentially in round 3 against Tamba Bay.  In my opinion, the earliest that the Penguins should even consider using Marc-Andre Fleury is in game 1 of round 3.

So why would I not play Marc-Andre Fleury in game 6?  There are plenty of reasons to support my argument, which is the right decision, involving keeping Matt Murray in net.

In the words of Rob Rossi, the Penguins have 2 options in net for game 6: “a rookie, or a Cup winner.”  Ok, that’s fair.  Here, I would say the Cup winner…but only if I’m basing a decision solely off of that statement.

Let’s rephrase this scenario to make it more accurate.

The Penguins have 2 options in net for game 6: a 21-year-old goaltender with promising potential that has a .937 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average in the playoffs, or a 31-year-old goaltender who hasn’t played a game in a month, and is coming off of his 2nd concussion of the year.

Hmmm…I’ll take the 21-year-old guy.

Crazy how a little rephrasing can totally change the scenario.

So what, we should all be calling for Matt Murray’s head since he let in 3 goals on 19 shots? Well, Holtby let in 3 goals on 23 shots in game 3, and I do not recall many people calling for his head following that loss.

Heck, if Fleury was healthy, played in every game thus far, and had Matt Murray’s stats up to this point…are we calling for Matt Murray after Fleury lets in 3 goals on 19 shots, in which he couldn’t really do anything about each goal?  I would say no, but that’s just my opinion.  However, when the “franchise guy” Fleury is on the bench, it seems as though yinzer nation just wants an excuse to put him in. I get it, but it’s ridiculous.

Ride the hot hand.  The Penguins guy is still Matt Murray.  Oh, and I’m not done yet.

Let’s start thinking hypothetically (although I do not always enjoy thinking hypothetically, it makes sense for this situation).  Say the Penguins start Fleury in game 6.

If he wins, then great.  The Penguins will move on and the coaching staff will decide which goalie starts game 1 of the next series against the Lightning.

If he loses, notably if he plays subpar or even just lousy, then what?  Do you, yet again, turn to the Cup winner/franchise goaltender to try to muster up a game 7 win in Washington?  Or do you go back to Murray, who is the main reason the Penguins are at where they are to begin with.

Now the Capitals go into game 7 with confidence and momentum, and the Penguins coaching staff is scratching their heads as to which goalie they want to play in game 7.  The risks are just not worth it.  Not to mention that starting Fleury over Murray in game 6 would be taking a huge shot at Murray’s confidence, considering he didn’t really do much wrong in game 5, or in the playoff in general, to warrant being taken out of the lineup.

Let me draw you an almost identical parallel.

It was 2004.  The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Tommy Maddox to injury in game 2 of the regular season, which was a loss to the Ravens 30-13.  He was replaced by rookie Ben Roethlisberger, who everyone figured would be a half-decent quarterback, but nothing fantastic.  He ended up leading the Steelers to 15 straight wins, 14 in the regular season, and a 15-1 record.

Now tell me this: say Maddox was ready for game 12, and despite the Steelers winning game 11, in addition to games 1-10, Roethlisberger had 3 interceptions, but none of which were really on him.  Do you put Maddox back in?

No.  And it’s not even close.

My final argument is that Matt Murray deserves to finish was he started.  As a referred to in my previous article, the Penguins would never have owned a 3-1 series lead if not for Murray.  He is the reason the Penguins are in the position they are in, and he deserves to finish the job.

Heck, even if Murray and the Pens finish the Caps off in game 6, many will be calling for Fleury to start game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 3.  To this, I still say the starter should be Matt Murray.

Why?

Well, let’s look at the stats.  The Penguins are 0-3 against the Lightning this year.  In the first game, the Lightning won 5-4 in OT.  Fleury posted a .800 save percentage.  In the second game, Fleury had a horrid .714 save percentage, allowed 4 goals, and was pulled in favor of Zatkoff, who started the 3rd and final game against the Lightning.  Murray has yet to face the Lightning, but I like to think he can’t be much worse, especially with how he has been playing this year.

 

Game 6, I’ll take Matt Murray.

Game 7, if needed, I’ll take Matt Murray.

If the Penguins advance to play Tampa Bay, I’ll take Matt Murray.

If they advance to the Stanley Cup, well, it’s hard to not go with Matt Murray.

I love Fleury, and regardless of what happens in the playoffs this year, he will be the starter for the Penguins next year.  However, for now, the Penguins need to keep riding Matt Murray.  Case closed.

Murray or Fleury?

Don’t Worry…At Least Not Yet

The Penguins had a 3-1 series lead over the President Trophy winners.

They had a 3-1 lead against a goalie who will likely win the Vezina Trophy as best NHL goaltender, Braden Holtby.

They had a 3-1 lead against a Capitals team with stellar offensive power and a strong defense.

holtby

It was only a matter of time before the Capitals found their game, as the they went on to beat the Penguins 3-1 in Washington DC in game 5, trimming the Penguins’ series lead to 3-2 and forcing game 6 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Throughout Twitter, word of mouth, text messages, the radio, and other forms of media, I seem to be getting 2 different vibes about this Penguins team: one side of the spectrum believes that the Penguins will respond well in game 6 at home and finish of the Capitals.  The other side of the spectrum is saying, “Oh no, here comes a repeat of 2011 and 2014: blowing that 3-1 series lead..”

To those of you that truly believe the Penguins will win game 6, I’m glad you believe in this hockey team.  For those of you on the other side of the spectrum, aka the “Pens are gonna blow a 3-1 series lead again” side, I simply say don’t worry…at least not yet.

First of all, the Penguins just lost 1 game.  They didn’t lose the series.  The have a chance to win at home, and even if they fail to do that, they could still win game 7 in Washington…which they did en route to a Stanley Cup in 2009.

Although the Penguins did have a chance to finish off the President’s Trophy winner Washington Capitals, did anyone (not Penguins fans alone) think that the Pens would even win this series? It seemed to me that many analysts were picking the Capitals in this series.  So, in that fact alone, the fact that the Penguins are even up 3-2 in this series thus far is still pretty incredible.

Finally, although the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead, which is now a 3-2 series lead, it really did not feel that way going into game 5.  Going into game 5, every game was decided be a goal excluding game 2 (which was a 2 goal win by the Penguins due to a late empty net goal by Letang), which included 2 games, game 1 and game 4, both decided in overtime.  The Caps won game 1 on an OT winner by TJ Oshie, capping off a hat trick, and the Pens won game 4 on a goal from Patric Hornqvist.  It also includes a game 3 where the Capitals probably deserved to win and played much better hockey than the Pens, but Matt Murray simply stood on his head while making 47 saves, the most ever by a rookie goaltender in a playoff win.

Say the Capitals win game 3 without Murray’s heroics, and say they score the winning goal in OT in game 4.  All of a sudden, Washington just won this series tonight 4-1.  Crazy, huh?

My point I want to make is that this series has been way closer than it appears.  Heck, the Capitals win game 5 while being outshot 32-22 by the Penguins.  Holtby played his best game of the series, their power play came through large by scoring 2 goals, and Murray played just alright.  The Penguins did not play a terrible hockey game.  They just didn’t get the result they wanted.

So I say once again, don’t worry just yet.  The Penguins can still close this out at home.  If they don’t…then we can start worrying.  But remember, it’s not over ’til it’s over.

Some quick observations about game 5…

  • Patric Hornqvist, a player that everyone on the team loves including Sullivan, played only 10:36 of ice time in game 5.  Only Fehr (10:13) and Kuhnhackl (8:09) had less ice time.  It did not appear Hornqvist was ever injured, but he did not see his normal ice time in this game. Something to keep note of going forward.
  • The Penguins need to neutralize Ovi.  He had the opening tally tonight, and his first via his classic one-time slap shot on the power play.  He has had one too many open chances in this series, and it was about time he buried one.  He is starting to feel it, and the Pens need to shut him down before he really gets hot.
  • Crosby and Malkin need to step up.  I know there is more to it than just putting points up, but these 2 guys need to do what they’re paid to do.  The other guys have been picking up the slack, but its about time one of them has a big game.  Game 6 would be preferable.  It won’t be easy, however, as the Caps get probably their most physical defensemen Brooks Orpik back for game 6 after serving his 3 game suspension for his hit on Olli Maatta.
  • The Penguins power play needs to just shoot the puck.  The one goal they had tonight was because their power play was moving and kept Washinton’s defense scrambling by getting the puck to the net.  Kunitz jammed in the rebound.  They seem to be looking for the perfect chance, but that just can’t happen every time.  Fire the puck quickly on goal, good things will come.  This needs to be addressed. Also, noted, the pens despite terrific zone time didn’t register a shot after pulling Murray with 3 minutes to go.  Let that sink in.
  • I felt as though there were 2 very large moments in this game that really put it away for the Capitals.  First was the goal by Williams, which resulted after a clear from Dumoulin fell right on his stick, and he made no mistake with it and curried it 5-hole on Murray giving the Caps a 3-1 edge.  Then after the Pens went down 3-1, Justin Schultz had a miraculous chance in a 4 on 2 rush for the Pens, but Holtby made an unbelievable stop.  It really felt like the game was over right there and then.
  • The Penguins should stick with Murray for the rest of this series.  Even if they lose game 6, I would not even consider putting in a cold Marc-Andre Fleury in for a game that means that much, even though he is your franchise goaltender.  Let the kid that got you there play this one out.  He deserves to finish what he started.  If they advance, we can discuss who starts from there on out.
  • Oh yeah, almost forgot. Pens in 6.

 

Don’t Worry…At Least Not Yet