Penguins Stanley Cup Inevitable

What a party it could have been. Thousands upon thousands inside, and outside of the Consol Energy Center waited for the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Not on this night anyway.

As has been the case during these finals, the score did not reflect which team had the better play. The Sharks skaters did just enough to survive while riding another exceptional performance from goaltender Martin Jones. Aside from the first three minutes of the game, Pittsburgh dominated nearly every statistical category.

The Penguins’ stars came to win, and controlled play nearly every time they touched the ice. The big names put up ridiculous possession numbers with Phil Kessel at 66.67% Corsi For, Evgeni Malkin 70%, Sidney Crosby 78.95%, and Kris Letang with a whopping 82.35%. In fact, Pittsburgh only had two players (Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl) with a negative 5-on-5 Corsi differential.

The Sharks had dramatically different results as they had no players with positive 5-on-5 numbers. In fact, the San Jose skater with the best possession numbers was Brenden Dillon with a Corsi For % of 46.15%. If the Penguins got even a marginally better performance from Matt Murray, and a less-than-otherworldly performance from Jones, the party in Pittsburgh might still be going on.

The above chart shows shot locations for the entire series, but looking at just Game 5 the Penguins outshot the Sharks 46-22. It could be argued that shot totals do not necessarily reflect quality scoring opportunities, but 30 to 35 of those Pittsburgh shots could be considered high-danger scoring chances. By all accounts, Pittsburgh should have won. Jones, posts, and puck luck kept the score from being lopsided. With the possible exception of Game 3, the series has simply been dominated by the faster, deeper, more aggressive Penguins.

Can Murray Bounce Back?

The above Tweet just about sums up the talk surrounding Murray right now. If the Penguins win the Stanley Cup on Sunday, or if they blow a tire and head back to Pittsburgh (hopefully not on a flat tire) both outcomes could be directly attributed to the young netminder.

The thing about Murray is that he truly has ice in his veins. If he goes out in Game 6 and plays a stinker of a game, it wont be because he is rattled or overwhelmed by the stage. It will be because he is 22-years-old. Remember what you were doing when you were 22? The kid is still learning his craft while performing on the biggest stage in the world. He has shown us that he is resilient, and capable of stealing a game while under a great deal of pressure. I strongly believe that this is what we will see Monday night. A focused, determined, skilled netminder that will be out to prove something to the world.

As much as I respect Marc-Andre Fleury, he is not the answer right now. Yes, it would be a feel-good story to see “Flower” on the ice when the buzzer sounds on a championship for the Penguins. But if it gets to the point that they need to turn the Fleury, there are some rather large issues going on. At this point, for better or for worse, Murray is your man. I think that he effectively gave up the lead in the Conn Smythe race to Kessel, but Murray has surprised everyone in the hockey world going back to last season in Wilkes-Barre. Betting against this kid is not a good idea.

The Secret to Victory

So what do the Penguins need to do to finally put this series to bed? Keep doing what they are doing. I know, the definition of insanity…blah, blah, blah. I think that I made a pretty strong case already that the Penguins are doing just about everything right, except putting the puck behind Jones at a rapid pace.

Limit the breakdowns. Continue the quick, high-quality zone exits by the defense. Play aggressive north/south hockey through the neutral zone. Dominate puck possession, and keep peppering the goalie with quality shots. You know, just play Penguins’ hockey. Maybe Pittsburgh just needs someone to hate, like Tom Wilson, and Ryan Callahan. I think Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic may have provided that now.

Jones can’t continue to play like Patrick Roy forever. Eventually the dam will break, and Kessel, the red-hot Malkin, and company will be there to take advantage. This is a different type of Penguins team than we have ever seen before. It is a combination of skilled veterans that know better than to take this opportunity for granted, and a bunch of youngsters who don’t know enough to be intimidated. Add to that the culture of hard work and discipline created by Mike Sullivan, and you have a team that isn’t going to fold under pressure. A team that, by the law of averages, is bound for victory.

So they didn’t win the Cup in Pittsburgh. I would trade an evening of partying in Market Square for a year as champions any day.

Until next time.