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.

Powered by WordPress