Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

06/13/2009

Game 7: Epic Series Goes To Pittsburgh – Penguins Win 2-1

Just watching this series, even while watching it with a stray eye from afar in Washington, was exhausting. For fans, for media, for bloggers, for everyone alike.

Just imagine how it is actually playing the games.

The Penguins showed in Game 7 that they did, in fact, want it more. They played harder and more aggressive for the better part of the game. They played smarter for the entire game and didn’t allow for Detroit to wheel and deal the way they like to.

Most importantly, and this was something I made it a point to say both last year and this, their third and fourth lines responded better than Detroit’s did, a point that was made emphatically in Game 7 by Maxime Talbot scoring both Pittsburgh goals. Talbot last year was the lone player on Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines who proved to be a burr in the side of the Red Wings.

This year, Talbot solidified himself as a folk hero win or loss given how he handled himself against the Capitals and how he played smartly and selflessly throughout the playoffs. I know that the folks in Pittsburgh’s blogging circles will write folk songs and sing the praises of guys like Crosby, Fleury and Malkin but Talbot is the guy for whom much of Pens fans adulation and warm memories from here on out will be saved for.


Evgeni Malkin is the superstar you should get forced down your throat.
(Photo – AP)

In this go-round, Talbot had sustained help from Ruslan Fedotenko – a guy who already has Stanley Cup folk hero status for the last 25 Tampa Bay Lightning fans that haven’t been run off by the new owners there. Adding characters like Craig Adams and Fedotenko helped solidify the other lines for Pittsburgh helping younger players like Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal feel more at home working the grinder lines and realizing that by doing their job checking and defending you can still find a way to pot a goal or two.

Pieces like that are what the team was missing last year and they were able to capitalize best on playing the aggressive forecheck (you know, like I kept saying they ought to do) and put pressure on Detroit’s defense.

No, not Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski – those guys you can’t exactly rattle. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall however…

To this point in the playoffs, I had been singing the praises of Brad Stuart as his play through the first three rounds had been solid if not spectacular. In the Finals, however, Stuart’s efforts in Game 7 are what folks are going to be paying attention to. Stuart took a bad slashing penalty in the first period and had a brutal turnover and mis-timed moment to pinch in leading to both of Maxime Talbot’s goals.

Having that kind of résumé in an elimination game will often get a guy run out of town. For Stuart, it’s a Finals he’d like to forget as his play suffered. Whether that be from his own mistakes or for having to perpetually look out for Niklas Kronwall who would take himself out of plays looking to deliver a hit elsewhere or do too much on the puck it’s tough to say.

For all the advances that Kronwall seemed to make last season in his play after finally finding a way to remain healthy, I couldn’t help but find myself watching him to see how he would handle himself and his positioning. A lot of the time he’s solid, but there’s enough brain farting going on that teams were finding ways to expose him.

I hammered on a lot of this after Game 3 of this series and his +/- rating didn’t change after Game 3. In Games 4 and 5 he pulled in a +1 rating and in Game 6 he was even.

Yeah, you guessed it, he was a -2 in Game 7 along with Brad Stuart. Game 7 saw plenty of reckless play from the two of them and if anything that -2 was well earned on their part. The poor unfortunate guy that had to deal with all that was Chris Osgood who truly played stellar all throughout this series and the playoffs.

For Pittsburgh though, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was the story from beginning to end.

Enough about Crosby and him captaining the team to the win – I’m done with that. Good for him for winning but it’s not because of him they were able to beat Detroit. Not in Game 7 and not in the rest of the series. He’s the guy you’re going to get forced down your throats from now until Lord knows when, but it’s got to be eating him up how much more sound the Penguins play when he’s not around. Malkin carried this team last year while Crosby was out with an injury and he carried the team again in Game 7 when Crosby left with an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Johan Franzen.

This was Malkin’s baby from the start of the playoffs and he earned it. Worst of all? Fans in North America aren’t going to hear enough about him because he’s Russian and speaks poor English and the NHL can’t wrap their head around marketing players that don’t come from North America.

Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve got a full-blown man-crush on the Hart Trophy candidates this year (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin) but the league can’t do anything with them. This is why if you too are a Twitter user you should be following Dmitry Chesnokov, one of the contributors at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy.

He’s Russian and gets all the juicy interviews with the Russian stars and gets the personality out of them that the NHL is too ignorant or lazy to try for and hey, guess what, Russian players aren’t the robots you see elsewhere around the league.

Look at it this way, when your favorite Russian player is giving a poorly-worded interview in English, that guy is a regular Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull when interviewed in Russian.

It’s so frustrating to see such marketing ability available here and no one putting it to use it’s even managed to derail my Stanley Cup wrap up.

I know a lot is going to get made about how Herr Bettman’s wet dream finally came true here, and it did let’s not think differently, but what we’ve got here is a damn spanking nice little cross-conference rivalry teeming over with superstars. Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Slovaks all over the place.

Sets the stage pretty nicely for Vancouver in 2010 now, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, training camps open in three months and the NHL Draft is two weeks away with the Free Agency window opening soon after that.

The off-season begins now.

05/31/2009

Game 1: House of Bounce – Detroit Wins 3-1

Tell me you predicted this would happen.

OK sure, you may have predicted Detroit would win the game. That’s possible.

Did you predict that Sidney Crosby would be held off the scoresheet?

Did you predict that there wouldn’t be a true highlight goal scored?

Did you predict that the one goal that would be the highlight goal would be scored by Justin Abdelkader?

What you can’t see there is Abdelkader smacking the puck out of mid-air and floating it into the upper corner to put Detroit ahead 3-1.

As for the other goals scored in this game, well, the Joe Louis gremlins were in full effect and the Hockey Gods enlisted a Hanna-Barbera least-favorite to lend a hand in scoring tonight:


Don’t know this guy? Yeah, we’re not surprised.

That’s right, it’s Ricochet Rabbit.

You don’t know him? That’s OK, he’s not worth looking up on YouTube or trying to find him on Cartoon Network – he sucks. Given what went down this evening with Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury we’re sure he feels the same way.

Check out the two other goals he allowed this evening:

I know the best way to sum that up is, “Shit happens” but yeah – ouch.


How Marc-Andre Fleury felt in Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.

That said, as bad as Marc-Andre Fleury had it, Chris Osgood had it going the other way for the Red Wings in stopping 31 of 32 shots and while a bit shaky early on in controlling rebounds, one leading to Ruslan Fedotenko’s seventh goal of the playoffs, Osgood was a rock.

What’s turning out to be one of the crazier phenomenons of the NHL Playoffs is that the more folks seem to discount the work of Chris Osgood, the better he gets. From the second he set foot on the ice in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals as a desperate replacement for the struggling Dominik Hasek, Osgood has been a playoff freakshow.

His efforts in Game 1 brought his playoff goals against average this year to 2.00, second only to Tim Thomas of the Bruins. His save percentage sits at a lofty .928 yet some folks out there more than happy to discount whatever he brings to the table.

But see, now’s the time when I act like a dick and trample all over what I just wrote about him and say: You just never know with Osgood though.

Old memories fade slowly and while you’d like to think the visions of Osgood leading both the 1998 and 2008 Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup titles would be the lasting vision of him… The ugly goals and previous poor performances out of both Osgood and some past Red Wings teams tarnish his now incredibly sick and lofty NHL legacy.

Chris Osgood through all this remains the NHL version of Rodney Dangerfield. If he keeps up with the tremendous output and numbers and wins… He’s the benefit of a great defense. If he gives up a few and Detroit loses in rough ways, it’s “typical” Osgood and he has to do better than that for Detroit to win.


No respect I tell ya! No respect at all!

For all that talk about having the great defense in front of him, Chris Osgood sure is facing a good amount of shots. After Game 1, Osgood has faced an average of close to 29 shots per game (28.5+ for those wanting more accuracy). Obviously he’s not having boring games in goal and his 2.00 GAA proves that he’s been on top of his game.

Of course, if he goes the way of Cam Ward and melts down completely all this talk is moot and Osgood will probably never shake off the, “You’re not good enough” demons for the rest of his career and eventual heated debate on whether or not he’s a Hall of Fame goaltender.

After all of that, however, it wouldn’t be an official Penguins game if Sidney Crosby didn’t get involved in some way. This time it came after the final horn:

Ah jeez. Now, honestly, what is the point of doing that? According to Sidney Crosby, well… You figure it out:


“Yeah, Kirk, he was doing what he always does. Giving guys lip service and things like that. I two-handed him I think on top of the foot there as we were skating by. He felt it was necessary for him to keep talking after the game, and I thought I’d whack him.”

Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

Signs of early frustration from Crosby? No, that’s dumb so punch yourself in the yambag if you think that’s the case.

Trying to bait Kirk Maltby and the Red Wings into doing something stupid to go running around after him in Game 2?

Well… Crosby can’t be that naive to think that that would actually work. Detroit has already gone through two teams that are both a lot better at that sort of thing and a lot more nasty about it (Anaheim and Chicago) than Crosby thinks he is being in this case and Kirk Maltby running his mouth and getting that kind of reaction out of Crosby means that he’s doing his job well.

The storylines for Game 2 are going to be about whether or not Maltby and the Red Wings respond to Crosby’s petulance (they certainly won’t go out of their way to do it) and whether or not Crosby can give his team a lift and a split before the series turns to Pittsburgh.

Both teams played this game very well and for all intents and purposes it was a very even game. Some folks will be critical of the officiating both ways and there were certainly a lot of non-calls but the key here is that the flow and pace of the game was not affected by it. It didn’t become a slow, plodding, slug-it-out sort of game with both teams playing dump and chase all night and if that sort of thing can continue throughout the playoffs and matters stay consistent the series will stay entertaining to watch.

With the quick turnaround for Game 2, this will provide a good test for both teams fitness level because neither one is going to want to head to Pittsburgh gasping for air.

05/27/2008

Game 2: All Aboard for Uglytown — Detroit wins 3-0

I took notes on Game 2.

In my head, not on paper, I’m not that much of a nerd – and since I write online, I’m clearly not a journalist nor a professional.

So you’ll get this in stream of consciousness format – and it’ll look about as ugly as the Penguins have all throughout this series.

Game 2 saw Pittsburgh start following yours truly’s tips for victory, namely this little piece of information. Quoth me:


Pittsburgh’s plan of attack here has to be to push, pressure and force the
issue. Make Detroit get back on their heels and defend, to throw the puck at the
net and keep control of it themselves. Sounds like I’m talking out of both sides
of my mouth here, I know, but Dallas and Nashville both saw their greatest
success against Detroit when they forced the issue. While Nashville’s success
almost has to be given an asterisk since that came against current bench jockey
goaltender Dominik Hasek, the fact is they went after Detroit to score.

At about the 10 minute mark of the second period, the Penguins snapped out of the hypnotist-induced fog and started to forecheck aggressively and go after anyone in a Red Wings uniform. This was a positive thing. It’s one of the few positive things you can take out of a game that saw the Penguins not score for the second straight Stanley Cup Finals game. It saw frustration already starting to bubble over from Penguins players, namely Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik and crotchety old man Gary Roberts, likely still ticked off about being a healthy scratch in Game 1.

Go ahead, just ask him about that, he’ll expound at great length about it.

The fact that the end of the game saw things unfold the way it did shows that Pittsburgh’s road to the Finals may have, in fact, been too cushy. Ottawa was a broken down and mentally challenged first round opponent. The New York Rangers were a scoring-handicapped team with one semi-rejuvinated superstar playing the wing and a key pain-in-the-ass out of the lineup. The Flyers were a more physical version of the Rangers sans an aging superstar. Pittsburgh faced little to no adversity along the way. None of those three teams offered any sort of offensive push nor any talent for passing or delivering the body.

Enter Detroit.

This also takes me back to something else I said in that now Kreskin-like Cup Preview piece I wrote. More from me:


If Pittsburgh does indeed decide to pile into their zone defensively and
rely on blocking shots and trying to stop Detroit at the blueline…they’re
going to spend a lot of time waiting for Detroit to just give up the puck to
them on a dump in or turnover. This series won’t last quite so long.

Pittsburgh is trying to play Detroit’s game…except that Detroit is better at it than anyone.

Period.

Worse yet for Pittsburgh, most, if not all, of Detroit’s power comes from their defensemen to set things up. No forecheck, no aggressive play = Detroit’s defense getting to play quarterback behind the greatest offensive line ever assembled. They’ve had all day to wait things out, to regroup, to gather…to get the forwards cycling again through the neutral zone and forward to attack. Detroit hasn’t really had to dump the puck in and chase it, not while the forwards are carving holes through the Pittsburgh defense and getting in behind those Penguins defensemen on the dump-ins.

Games 1 and 2 have certainly been a “Worst Case Scenario” for Pittsburgh. Worse yet, Penguins leadership refuses to accept this as fact.


Well, honestly, I truly believe the first game, our young team was
really nervous. We fell behind early in the game yesterday, and this is a
team that it’s tough to generate offense with the obstruction that they’re
doing.

But you know what, they’re doing it the right way. It’s like
there’s a dotted line. Sometimes they’ll cross it a little bit. And that
goes with experience. It’s tough to generate offense. And you need to score
dirty goals. The tic‑tac‑toe play, sometimes it’s going to happen. But most
of the time you’re going to put the puck at the net, and you’re going to
crash the net.

These quotes come from Penguins coach Michel Therrien – they’re far subdued compared to how fired up he was immediately after Game 2:


It’s really tough to generate offense against that team. They’re good on
obstruction. It’s going to be tough to generate any type of offense, if the
rules remain the same. So it’s the first time we’re facing a team that the
obstruction is there, and we’re having a hard time skating to take away ice.

We took two penalties tonight on the goalie. We never take penalty to
the goalie in the playoff. I’ll tell you something, I reviewed those plays.
He’s a good actor. He goes to players, and he’s diving. Took away our power
play. Got to get focused. I know our players are frustrated right now. It’s
tough to play the game. But Osgood did the same thing against Dallas under
Ribeiro.

Frustration I understand. It’s tough not to be frustrated with how badly Pittsburgh is being shut down by Detroit. The reasons for their failure in this series were not even mentioned at all by Therrien, however.

Nowhere did he accept blame for only playing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for 18 minutes a piece in Game 1. You know those two guys, right? The two best players on the ice for the Penguins whenever they set foot on it. You know….those guys. At no point does he offer up reasons for his team’s failure to muster a shot on goal for the first 12 minutes of Game 2, nor does he talk about his team’s inability to score on the power play.

Instead, we’re treated to petulant excuses about how the Red Wings are playing hockey like that of the Devils in the 1990s (which they’re not) and about how Chris Osgood’s diving show is ruining the sport. It’s silly, but the two times he’s flopped have come either at the end of the game, like against Dallas or last night when Petr Sykora legitimately ran into him. These complaints do the job to fire up the fans in Pittsburgh and get the talking heads rambling about these supposed issues, however it does nothing to find answers for the problems the Penguins are having.

Osgood falling down on the ice with under a minute to play didn’t decide the game one way or another. Detroit playing keep-away with the puck sure as hell frustrates Penguins players and fans alike but the only way to fix that is pressure the puck carriers like crazy. Tiring job? You bet it is – but if you want your name on the Stanley Cup in couple of weeks, you better believe you should do it.

Instead, Therrien is playing the “woe is me” card to the press and using the media to beg for more calls to be made against Detroit. I’m having a hard time coming up with the appropriate historical figure or fictional character to describe him. No, wait, I’ve got a good one…

It’s not my fault! They told me they fixed it!

I’m not sure that I’d want to set the whining standard for my still very young superstars to take witness of.

All of this petulance from Therrien does no service to his guys on the ice. They’re working hard, they’re just being outworked and outplayed.

Referees aren’t costing them the games, poor planning and adjustment making is.

That said, the goals stay the same for Pittsburgh – pressure the hell out of Detroit and get on the board first. The scoreless streak means nothing once the game starts. If Osgood starts coming up with miraculous saves, the psychological hold over the Penguins will be in full force. The coach and some of the players already think he’s a diving creep and none of that stuff has had an effect on the game.

For those of you thinking Osgood flopped when Ryan Malone ran into him while on the Pittsburgh power play, good luck convincing anyone that Ryan Malone seemed to know anything at all of what he was doing in Game 2 – he was thoroughly abysmal and took three terrible minor penalties and the mix-up with Osgood was legitimate.

Instead of whining to the press, Michel Therrien would be better suited breaking out a bullwhip and a cattle prod in practice – these Penguins need a major league wake-up call to just stay in these games with Detroit.

Detroit, on the other hand, if you’re going to pick on something they’re not doing well the power play is it. They’re 1-out-of-14 on the power play and while they’ve had some solid efforts, they’ve only got one goal to show for it.

Improved defensive play and smoothness from Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja (filling in for a wonky-kneed Chris Chelios) are tall orders, but would help Detroit to become a thorough and flawless 20-man wrecking crew – but asking for those things in Detroit is pure greed at this point.

A Detroit win in Game 3 and it becomes a question of whether Pittsburgh wins one for pride in Game 4 or plummets into the tank completely. A Pittsburgh win will again tweak the resolve of Detroit and instill some confidence into a team that is in clear psychological disarray.

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