I rarely get strong inclinations one way or the other before a Pens game about how it’s gonna turn out, but with the way the Pens’ D has been playing and with Brent Johnson in net against a red-hot Capitals offense, the outcome of this game was painfully foreseeable. I predicted 5-2 Capitals, and was actually surprised by the briefly-competitive 6-3 result.
The Pens’ D has been chuck-the-remote bad for a couple months now and continues to trivialize the Pens’ problems on the power play, in net, and Malkin’s mediocrity (all of which have at least shown signs of possible nearby improvement). If the Pens continue playing defense the way they have been, none of these other shortcomings will matter — the Pens will continue to be a glorified Lightning, incapable of stringing together a dominant win streak and entering the playoffs as eminently vulnerable. Fortunately, I don’t think this will be the case leading up to the playoffs, but for now, it’s a painful, me-swearing-at-the-screen reality.
I’ve been a Kris Letang supporter since long before the Ryan Whitney trade, but lately, Letang’s been my go-to Penguins scapegoat; he’s been directly responsible for about a goal a game over the past month, and not just as a result of him being out of position or failing to cover someone, but in increasingly creative, pathetic ways. Against the Capitals last night, Letang got caught pinching in the Caps’ zone below the goal line while it was 5-on-5 and a tie game, lost the puck, and left Nick Johnson — a winger playing in his first ever NHL game — back on D to cover Tomas Fleischmann, resulting in an instant Fleischmann breakaway and goal. Since any further comment on this action would result in at least a dozen F-words from me, I’ll just end the paragraph now.
Elsewhere, Sergei Gonchar continues to play like he’s part injured, and part totally apathetic — I guess we can call it “Hurtpathetic?” Or just shorten it to the equally-accurate “pathetic”. Gonchar and the rest of the Pens’ D appears to be in “midway through a scrimmage” mode, where everyone’s tired and just constantly waiting to get the puck so they can go back on offense. Shockingly, this doesn’t work in the NHL, and even more shockingly, it works even less against the NHL’s top offensive team. Did I mention the outcome of this game was foreseeable from outer space?
You can’t pin the game on Brent Johnson, but he also failed to come up with a momentum-changing save; granted, it’s not his fault that Nicklas Backstrom was allowed to come out from behind the net, take the time to create an Excel spreadsheet of the best and worst spots to shoot from his angle, turn the spreadsheet into a line graph, put the line graph on a USB drive, bring it to Kinko’s, print out 3,000 color copies, distribute them to his teammates and family, hold a board meeting to discuss the findings, then shoot the puck. But still, an improbable Johnson save here or there could’ve changed the game, and it never came.
On the comforting side, the Pens’ power play seemed mostly back to normal (meaning, terrible normal). I’m assuming the Islanders game restored the power play’s confidence so they could go back to not moving / skating hard / shooting from closer than 120 feet away and with fewer than four guys lined up to block it. I spent all of Wednesday worrying that I’d lose my obligatory “power play sucks” paragraph in these recaps. Whew!
Grasping hard for silver-lined straws, Ruslan Fedotenko played his most noticeable game in weeks. I’m guessing he saw the hordes of media in the locker room before the game, assumed it was the playoffs and thus time to return to competence, and Byslma told everyone “shhhh…don’t tell him. He might actually hit the net once or twice.”
Flyers Sunday afternoon. I’m feeling a 4-3 shootout win, but not before plenty of fresh Gonchar curses bounce off my tv.