Reports of Penguins’ Collapse are Greatly Exaggerated

Sean Couturier
Fleury has allowed 17 goals on 84 shots through three games (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

In late 2007, the Phoenix Coyotes claimed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers from Anaheim.  Wayne Gretzky was the coach of the Coyotes at the time and immediately knew the impact Bryzgalov could have, even on the public perception of his team.

“I’m a better coach today than I was yesterday,” Gretzky said half-jokingly to reporters after learning his team had snagged the Russian goalie with great upside.  Bryzgalov — now the $51 million Flyers media-darling/goaltender — propelled the Coyotes to unimaginable accomplishments during his time in Phoenix.

Elite goalies create Jack Adams Award coaches and legendary General Managers.  They spackle holes on a roster and give a decent team the confidence of a champion.  For much of the past four seasons, Marc-Andre Fleury has been an elite goalie.

Blame it on a heavy workload down the stretch or an untimely lack of confidence, but Fleury hasn’t played like the goalie the Penguins have come to expect and NEED in order to win hockey games as of late.  Average performances by Fleury in the first two games against the Flyers eventually gave way to a total meltdown in Game 3.

With the Penguins facing elimination on Wednesday, reporters who boldly insisted the Penguins would waltz through the playoffs are now scrambling to justify how their predictions ended up so wrong.

In a matter of ten days, these writers now feel Dan Bylsma has morphed into a paralyzed coach incapable of making adjustments, Sidney Crosby has done more harm than good since his return, the team has suffered a catastrophic top-to-bottom system failure, and the Penguins shouldn’t bother showing up for Game 4.

Perhaps I’ve been watching a different series.

I’ve seen the home team carry the play in the two games played in Pittsburgh.  I’ve seen a talented Flyers team cash in on offensive opportunities at a staggering rate.   And I’ve seen special teams play a critical role in the outcome of all three games.

The Penguins may be down 3-0 in a first-round series to the hated Flyers, but reports of their ‘collapse’ have been greatly exaggerated.

maxime talbot
Max Talbot has stepped forward with timely shorthanded goals for the Flyers (Tony Medina/Icon SMI)

According to the Flyers blog Broad Street Hockey, Pittsburgh had a 13-8 lead in scoring chances and a 23-13 lead in shots through two periods of Game 1.  The Flyers had the good fortune of Daniel Briere’s offisides goal and a hopping puck onto the stick of Jakub Voracek in overtime and escaped with a 4-3 overtime win.  After the game, Penguins players and coaches refused to blame the referees or bad luck, but they knew they squandered an opportunity to grab the series lead.

Game 2 was a different twist on a similar tale.  The Penguins blew another lead on home ice and this time special teams were to blame.  Shorthanded goals by Max Talbot and Claude Giroux sucked the life out of the crowd and the Penguins unraveled in the third period, yet they carried the play for much of the game.

The following day, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was asked: “Dan, when you have a lead late in a game, do you have it in your repertoire to get very conservative, to go into a trap, or is that so against your system that you don’t want to do that?”

Bylsma politely pointed out that the Penguins have played a 1-2-2 trap in the neutral zone for much of the season.  What he didn’t mention was this also includes every game of the Philadelphia series.

The system isn’t the problem.  The coach isn’t the problem.  The effort isn’t the problem.

The Penguins are facing a good team with a sound gameplan and they’ve seen a number of bounces and calls go the Flyers’ way.  Critical mistakes have resulted in opportunities for Philadelphia, and more often than not they’ve capitalized.  Fleury hasn’t been a star in net and it’s put the Penguins’ roster holes — which were not addressed at the trade deadline — under a microscope.

A bounce or two the other way and Pittsburgh could easily be sitting in control with a 2-1 series lead.  But they’re not and they face a very difficult task of winning four straight games.

That’s the beauty of the NHL playoffs.  Anything can happen.  All a coach or general manager can do in today’s salary cap world is put his team in position to have the best chance of winning.

“The fact of the matter is we made some mistakes that have hurt us,” Crosby said after Game 3 on Sunday.  “There’s been different reasons for that, whether it’s been bad bounces or they made a couple of really good plays.  Whatever the case is there’s no point dwelling on it now.”

“We know what we need to do.  We need to win a hockey game.”

Because in the end that’s all it is: a hockey game.  Enjoy it.



Twitter: @MikeColligan

15 thoughts on “Reports of Penguins’ Collapse are Greatly Exaggerated”

  1. Very optimisitc and that’s what we need. I wish I could share that faith but I think the truth has been exagerated to make us feel good. We did not control most of the first two games. We owned the first two periods and then let them establish their forecheck and break us down shift by shift.
    Game three was an embarassment as a 27+ year fan. I love that we care but I’m lost for words about what we do with  our bluline to our goalline. Does anyone truly believe Fleury will win 4 straight for us? I’ve become accustomed to him having 1-2 bad games a series. I don’t blame him for game one at all – I give him no quarter in games two & three though. The team needs an honest look to see if we’re a regular season team or a playoff team.

  2. It’s not the fact that the Penguins lost those games, but it’s the manner in which they did.  Now, being a Flyers fan, i admittedly don’t watch every Pens game.  That said, I think i know enough about that team with it’s stars (Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury) and a strong cast around them, that they don’t usually let the wheels fall off like this.  That’s the point.  They are letting up short handed goals, they aren’t scoring on the power play, they are getting poor goaltending in key moments, Malkin is all but invisible, and they are letting their emotions get the best of them.  They’ve given up leads of 2-0 and 3-0 in the first two games.  The Pens of the regular season just don’t do that.  Say what you will, but they’ve lost something since these playoffs started.  Yes, Briere was offsides, but that was the first of 20 goals that they’ve allowed.  Could it be 2-1 Pens right now?  Of course because they’re a playoff tested and capable team.  That’s why this TERRIBLE performance is more than just a “hey, sometimes you get the bounces and sometimes you don’t” scenario. 

  3. pens got a freebie when the refs missed that icing at the end of the period in game 1; the blown offsides was a makeup (no) call

  4. Well done, Mike.  Level-headed as usual.

    The SHG seemed to get things going down the wrong path in both Games 2 and 3.  Eliminate the shorties, and those games could go either way.

    The key is maintaining momentum, and the Pens haven’t done that.  Everyone’s predicting the sweep.  No Neal; no Asham or Adams; and no indication of anything lacking goaltending or defense to this point.  A win tonight, and the momentum swings ever so slightly in the Pens’ favor.

    I’m not unrealistic about the remote chances of this all happening, but I’m not throwing my hands in the air claiming the sky has already fallen on us when it’s still 15 feet above my head for the time being. 

  5. “They’ve seen a number of bounces and calls go the Flyers’ way,” that’s just not accurate. Sure the Briere goal was offsides, but the Pens third goal was a blown icing call, so they even out. Other than that, what calls are you talking about? As for the bounces, game one was the Pens best chance to win, but when you allow a team to score 20 goals in three games, the series does not break down to a few bounces and calls.

  6. Another thing not mentioned with blown leads and Bylsma’s system is the Pens have not had a 3rd period lead where you’d trap and play conservative. Leads are always in first 2 periods and lost then. In game 2 when Philly took the lead with 10 minutes to go, they were able to sit on it. Would have been interesting to see if Pens could have since that is when they would have adjusted. Can’t stop playing aggressive too soon.

    • Not to nit pick but the Pens had the lead going into the 3rd in game one  (3-1).  I think the problem is the pens play too conservative once they have the lead.  Seems like their sitting back and just trying to hold off the flyers and this leaves them entirely too vulnerable on defense.

  7. You are totally right.  This series could EASILY be at least 2-1 Pens.  And if they head into Philly with a 2-0 lead, we see a different game Sunday.  

    I LOVE the Neal suspension and I think it totally works in the Pens favor.  When they win tomorrow, they head back home and get back a 40 goal scorer.  That, and the win, should left spirits enough to send the series back to Philly.  I could be proven wrong but if this series gets to game 6, I cannot see the Pens losing.  If theres a team in the NHL that can get hot and go on a serious winning streak, it’s the Pens!

    • Remember in 2010 when the Pens were on a massive W streak heading into the winter classic and the… oh yea Flyers ended that streak.  Or this year when the Pens were on a 13 gamer and the… Oh yea… Flyers ended that one too…  While the Pens can go on a streak, lets not forget what Kryptonite has ended the previous ones

  8. I agree with your column, and Flyers fans or folks who only watch highlights will vigorously disagree with you. But the truth is that the Penguins did carry most of the play in the first two games and lost on fluky plays and bad calls. Game three, as you said, was a complete meltdown, but at the same time, that first call on Kunitz was complete garbage and changed the momentum of the game.

    The problem is, the Penguins have done this for three playoffs in a row. Last year they blew a 3-1 lead against the Bolts. Granted, they didn’t have Crosby or Malkin, but they couldn’t buy a goal in the last three games of the series despite all the rest of the talent on the team. Tampa would get four scoring chances a game and convert almost all of them. The year before that against Montreal it was the same deal as this series except they ran into Halak who was playing out of his mind. But the Habs were doing the same thing the Flyers have–cashing in on every single minute mistake. The question is, how long can it continue? That spinning, blind, shorthanded shot by Talbot last game that barely evaded Fleury’s toe will only go in one out of 10 times. That flub by Fleury in the first period only happens on one out of 1000 saves. Right? 

    Some may call it bad luck, but if you’re a Penguins fan it’s all starting to look like a pattern. And the fact of the matter is, teams are so close to each other these days, that you essentially need some blown calls and puck luck to win a series between evenly matched squads. The Penguins haven’t got that for three years, and with the roster as loaded as it is, folks start to refuse to blame it on wild variables.

    I do find it interesting that many Penguins fans haven’t given up on this series. Having watched them play all season you know that they haven’t played anywhere near their capabilities, and I think a lot of us are hoping that they can put it together for a few games, and then in game seven, let the chips fall where they may.  

    • I couldn’t agree more….it all starts with 1. One bounce one impossible save and one win. Tomorrow should be exciting to watch.

      • I’m in agreement with this, but I think tonight’s game will be really nerve-wracking to watch, especially since they’re on the brink of elimination. Good luck, Pens!

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