It’s a trend that is becoming far too familiar to Penguins’ fans in these Stanley Cup Playoffs:
A bone-headed play, a mental lapse, a brain cramp, or pure laziness leading to arguably the most talented team in these playoffs losing a game that they should win.
In what can only be described as the Pens playing “rope-a-dope” with the Senators during a last-two-minutes-of regulation-power-play, Sens’ captain Daniel Alfredsson scored short-handed to tie Game Three of this best of seven series and send the contest to overtime. Colin Greening continued his success in the series by scoring the OT winner at 7:39 of the second overtime frame to get Ottawa within a win of tying things up.
Allow me to explain the “rope-a-dope” strategy here. Defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson took a slashing penalty with just under a minute and a half left to play in regulation, and the Penguins up 1-0. Now at this point, the Pens’ power play had all but abandoned them in this game. They were 0-4 to this point, including a :59 two-man advantage early in the second period.
So with a minute and a half remaining, and the Penguins up a man, you would think that puck possession in the Ottawa end would be key. Keep two defensemen at the points, control the puck, no silly passes or shots and Pittsburgh should have the next two days to ponder how best to finish off the Senators in four games. But, as has been the case with this Penguins team, “not so fast my friend.”
Instead of getting the puck deep and controlling it in the Ottawa zone for the remainder of the game, the Penguins inexplicably dumped the puck in, then sat back and allowed the Sens to gain possession. Then were content to allow Ottawa to carry the biscuit into the Pens’ end. It becomes obvious at this point that the Penguins want to score an empty-net goal. Allow Ottawa to enter the zone, and get Craig Anderson (who was nothing short of spectacular in this game) to the bench for the extra skater. Then gain possession in the defensive zone, responsibly carry the puck out and hit the empty-netter for a 3-0 series lead. But the Penguins never gained possession in their own end.
Instead, Alfredsson was allowed to skate down the right wing boards, unscathed, and was able to deflect a Milan Michalek pass over an unsuspecting Tomas Vokoun’s right shoulder to knot things at one with 29 seconds left to play. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang each looked lost once the Senators’ Sergei Gonchar got the puck to Michalek, and he entered the zone. Add Paul Martin to the mix and you have three guys chasing the puck, and no one picking up a streaking (if you can call a 40 year-old that) Daniel Alfredsson. Needless to say, the rope-a-dope strategy failed miserably.
Who to Blame?
It’s easy to blame Malkin here. From a pure defensive system standpoint, Alfredsson was Gino’s guy. Or you could blame Kris Letang, who for whatever reason followed Paul Martin to Michalek, leaving the center of the ice wide open.
I prefer to blame Dan Bylsma.
Now if you have read my work during this postseason, you know that I have not been the biggest “Disco Dan” supporter. In fact, I’m one of his biggest critics. The fact is, he’s the coach. When you have a situation such as the one that arose last night at 18:33 of the third period, I have to imagine, that as the head coach, you are in charge of what your team is doing on the ice. You are the one sending a particular group of players out on the ice, and you call the strategy with which you’re sending them. In this case, he sent his top power play unit out, and in my opinion, with the strategy of allowing Ottawa to get Anderson to the bench in order to score an empty-net goal.
Why was the top PP unit out there to begin with? The Penguins didn’t need another goal. They had played masterful defensive hockey for the entire third period. Send out any combination of Matt Cooke, Brandon Sutter, Tanner Glass, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, Douglas Murray and kill off the last 1:27 of this game. But not only did Bylsma, in my opinion, send out the wrong guys, he sent them out with the wrong frame of mind.
What has become all too redundant this postseason, is Bylsma’s lack of adjustments and poor judgement. It took him three games to realize that his team was getting scalded by the Islanders’ speed. Then he finally made a lineup adjustment. It’s fairly obvious that Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal are not comfortable with one another, yet he keeps going back to this line combo. And his system, for all it’s regular season successes, has failed miserably not just this postseason, but last postseason, the postseason before, and the postseason before that.
(The Penguins’ offensive game is predicated on puck possession in the offensive zone. Ask yourself this: how much time have the Penguins spent in the Senators’ zone so far during this series? Have they really gotten their forecheck going?)
I was ready jump off a bridge last night after Greening’s goal in the second overtime. But today is a new day, and it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve slept it off, and awaken with a new sense of hope.
Consider this: Ottawa has thrown their very best at this Penguins’ team, and it took a last-second desperation goal, 27:39 of overtime hockey, and a Herculean effort from their goalie to finally beat them. All of that, coupled with returning home to play their first game at Scotiabank Place in 12 days, and welcoming back the second-leading scorer in Senators’ playoff history in Jason Spezza. At no point in this series has Ottawa even resembled being on the same planet as the Penguins. So I will simply say that it will be a shock if the Penguins do not return home on Friday night with a chance to wrap up this series in a fifth game on home ice (which, coincidentally, would be the Pens’ first series win on home ice since the 2008 Eastern Conference Final against Philly).
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Remember it’s not all doom and gloom, and…
“It’s a great day for hockey!!”