My head is telling me to throw out some cliches about how I expected the Flyers to bounce back at home and play a desperate must-win game and that the Pens’ power play would come back to haunt them and that we hadn’t seen the Flyers’ stars play their best, but truly, I’m not sure if I believed any of these things; intellectually, perhaps, and rationally, but on a genuine gut level I really expected the Pens to seize the opportunity to bury Philly after their Game 2 collapse, which perhaps was part wishful thinking and part ignorance, but it simply didn’t happen for a number of reasons. And by “reasons” I mean “terrible things.”
Terrible Thing #1: Pens’ Defense. The Pens’ team D never made the trip to Philly, and simply didn’t bring the effort or cerebral competence to slow down the Flyers in the slightest bit. Jeff Carter looked like a kid screwing around at the end of a team scrimmage on his first goal; how is any player afforded that much time and space in the offensive zone, especially an opponent’s best scorer in the first period of a playoff game in which both teams clearly had to be fired up? Sure, Fleury coughed up a juicy rebound on the Briere-Giroux one-timer, but no one touched Briere or Giroux within about a week of that entire play. And then there’s Sergei Gonchar’s pathetic casualness that led to the short-handed goal, which brings me to (Awesome Transition Alert)…
Terrible Thing #2: The Power Play. Several volumes of encyclopedias have been written about the Pens’ power play this season, and while I don’t have a clear solution, their main problem becomes more obvious with every game: you can’t keep Crosby, Malkin, and Gonchar all out on the ice for a full two minutes. Those three players are unable to battle for loose pucks 45 seconds into power plays, rendering the second half of man advantages essentially worthless and immensely vulnerable to short-handed retaliations, plus because the three of them know they’re gonna be out for a full two minutes, they don’t play the first minute of the power play with the same intensity or sense of urgency that a playoff series against a dangerous, opportunistic penalty killing team absolutely requires. It’s one thing for the Thrashers to throw out Ilya Kovalchuk for the full two minutes or for Nik Lidstrom to man the point for an entire power play, but a team can’t have 3/5 of its unit on the ice for two full minutes; at some point, a fresh Tyler Kennedy or Jordan Staal chasing loose pucks and getting to the net are more valuable than a tired Malkin and Gonchar playing catch at the point and settling for a 40-foot one timer that gets blocked by seven dudes and immediately flies out of the zone.
Terrible Thing #3: Finishing. The Pens have controlled the majority of the 5-on-5 play in this series and at worst have never appeared overwhelmed for any extended periods, but they simply haven’t made Marty Biron work in any of the three games, including Game 1. They’ve shot countless quality opportunities directly into Biron’s chest, had more than their share of shots convincingly blocked, and far too many 2-on-2 breaks and lengthy cycling shifts (and power plays) have evaporated without Biron being forced to break a sweat.
Petr Sykora semi-fanned on a handful of chances in Game 3, which should be the one thing Sykora doesn’t do, even when he’s struggling; a friend of mine suggested possibly swapping Miro Satan into the lineup in Sykora’s place, which could provide a minor spark (and possibly a bigger spark when a rejuvinated Sykora returned) but given Sykora’s playoff experience and the fact that such a move would be a slap in the face of a productive player and likely cost him millions in the offseason, I don’t forsee it happening. Also, Miro Satan is Miro Satan and the playoffs are the playoffs.
Despite the Pens’ well-earned 6 on the scoreboard in Game 3, I’m extremely optimistic that they’ll rebound Tuesday night; the coaching staff will have a number of glaring corrections to make which the embarrassed Pens should absorb without hesitation, plus Fleury didn’t have his best game Sunday, the Pens won’t have to manufacture a sense of urgency this time, and the power play can’t…. I don’t know if I should type this… the power play can’t get any……. they only gave up one shorthanded goal………ahhhh I’ll say it — the Pens’ power play can’t possibly get any worse.
One Mike Richards shorthanded natural hat trick comin’ up!