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.

06/01/2009

Game 2: Department of Redundancy Department – Detroit Wins 3-1

Stop me if you heard this one before.

Detroit beats Pittsburgh 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Me breaking out Yogi Berra is apparently rubbing off in a big way because not only are Detroit and Pittsburgh in the Finals for the second straight year, but now the Red Wings have come out on top of the Penguins by identical 3-1 to scores in each game this year and are once again ahead in the Finals 2-0… Just like they were last year.

Invoking more of the acid flashbacks to last year was Valtteri Filppula who scored the game-winning goal in tonight’s Game 2 in a play that’s come under some major scrutiny from at least one very famous Penguins blog. Have a look for yourself and see what you think, highlights from NBC:

The contention from the Penguins loyalists comes from the stick-work from, who else, Marian Hossa. On the play you see Pens forward Pascal Dupuis try to maneuver away while be harassed by Hossa. Hossa lifts the stick, he stick checks him all while Dupuis’ stick breaks in his hands. I’ll admit, his reaction to having the composite lumber fall apart in his hands had me fooled but after the replay… Well, that’s just crappy luck.

What stuck out to me here is that Dupuis instantly tried to sell a call and stopped playing. Now, I know selling a call is all part of the game… You don’t stop skating to yell though. Dupuis realizes a couple seconds too late that he has to keep playing and by that time, Detroit is at the half-boards and firing away and then the scrum ensues leading to Filppula’s insane backhand goal.

After all that, however, that goal wasn’t the backbreaker. Filppula’s goal made the score 2-1 but a familiar face from Game 1 was going to notch his second goal of the series and coincidentally enough it would again be the goal to make the game 3-1. The fresh-off-the-TV video from NBC:

From that point on in the third period, the Penguins were toast and it showed for the better part of the next ten minutes of play as Detroit toyed with and puck-controlled for that time. Puck control was a huge issue for Detroit in the first 30 minutes of this one as they found themselves uncharacteristically turning it over and dumping and chasing rather than staying back and patient.

Give the Penguins a lot of credit here as their forecheck forced the issue on Detroit but the Red Wings seem to always find a way to bend and not break and to resist the waves of pressure.

The one glaring issue with the series to this point, however, is the difference between the defensemen of these teams. It’s already unfair to have the Red Wings roll out there with Nick Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski and Nick Kronwall. Adding 6’5″ former NHL Draft Mr. Irrelevant Jonathan Ericsson to the mix and having him produce (he scored Detroit’s first goal tonight) and help out on the special teams with seamless effectiveness turns the tide even more in favor of Detroit.


Penguins defenseman Hal Gill in his natural state.

Pittsburgh’s extreme lack of solid play on the blue line is becoming more noticeable and bigger efforts in shutting down Detroit’s third and fourth lines, never mind the top two lines, are needed out of guys like Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill who have looked beyond abysmal through two games.

Scuderi was a -1 and Gill a -2 in Game 2 and Gill, while a solid shot blocker and space-taker-upper, is slow and prone to grabbing and holding out there something for which he should be fortunate the officials are letting go. So far through the first two games, Scuderi is -3 while Gill is a -4.

Not good.

Topping off the amazing coincidental party was how a game that was virtually decided managed to have some shenanigans break loose involving one of Pittsburgh’s super-duper-mega stars. Tonight, it was Evgeni Malkin’s turn to embarrass the Penguins as he instigated a fight with Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg after a fracas near the Detroit net, sparked by Maxime Talbot spearing goaltender Chris Osgood into flopping like Vlade Divac. Take a look:

Now, really, this whole Déjà vu thing takes a life of its own in this situation if you’ll think back to last year’s Game 2 and what occurred that night:

OK a questionable hit from a Penguins player leads to Osgood hitting the ice and then we’re playing the feud where Evgeni Malkin gets made to look really bad against someone from Sweden. Last year it’s Johan Franzen and this year it’s Zetterberg.

I really don’t know how this can play out any more similar than it has already.

The one “issue” that came up out of tonight’s schoolyard horsing around was that Malkin was booked for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game, something that according to the NHL Rule Book leads to an automatic one-game suspension.

Of course, if you believed the league was going to stick by that rule in the playoffs, you’re crazy as less than an hour after the game, Colin Campbell didn’t even bother to spin his Wheel of Justice and said that there would be no suspension for Malkin.

The one stark difference between this year and last year in spite of the results is the professionalism coming from Pittsburgh’s locker room, namely from head coach Dan Bylsma. While guys like Crosby and Malkin are busy running around like idiots and Maxime Talbot is too busy mouthing off at Marian Hossa or jabbing at Chris Osgood, Bylsma keeps his head held high and offers no excuses and points no fingers.

Imagine the explosion if Michel Therrien were in charge this year? Ye gods.

Here’s a look at Bylsma’s comments in the post-game press conference from tonight:

Q. Did you see the Hossa hook-slash on Dupuis before the second goal, and if so, what did you make of the whole sequence?

COACH BYLSMA: I think the way I saw the replay that our guy was trying to get the puck out. Hossa came in and used his stick to lift up their guy’s stick. You can make the judgment. The referee made the judgment that it wasn’t a hook.

I can slow it down and look at it myself and make my own judgment, but that was what happened. We failed to clear it with that hook and it led to the goal.

Pretty calm and collected there and it’s that kind of thing this Penguins team needs in that locker room so they don’t lose their heads and run around like idiots. Too bad Dan Bylsma wasn’t with this team last year.

Compare that to what Michel Therrien was ranting about after last year’s Game 2 loss:


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.

It’s like night and day.

Should the “history repeating itself” theme continue, Pittsburgh will take Game 3 and get talk of this being a series once again started in earnest. That said, if Detroit gets Pavel Datsyuk and/or Kris Draper back in the lineup on Tuesday life gets even more difficult for the Penguins because right now, they’re having a very hard time keeping up with the Red Wings AHL Invasion Unit of Justin Abdelkader, Ville Leino and Darren Helm. Adding in an MVP Candidate and a defensive face-off wizard only makes the Penguins hill to climb even more treacherous.

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