LET ME JUST SAY…
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom now, because I won’t get a chance Sunday on the return trip to Montreal.
OK, the inconveniences of a sportswriter’s life are not a topic most readers favor. How about this one:
Even-strength scoring: The Penguins lack it through four games of this second-round playoff series against Montreal. Not counting a couple of empty-net goals by RW Bill Guerin and RW Pascal Dupuis, the Penguins have three even-strength goals.
D Brooks Orpik suggested after a Game 4 loss at Bell Centre that special teams would have to win the Penguins this series. I’m not willing to go that far, but I’m leaning toward it as the struggles of Cs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continue.
I’m not sure what more amazes me: C Jordan Stall playing in Game 4 or Crosby and Malkin combining for one goal in the series.
No, wait; I’m going with Staal – and at this point I’m thinking of petitioning the NHL to have him removed from consideration for the Selke Trophy. After all, humans should win those NHL awards, not Terminators. Staal must be a machine to have played nearly 14 minutes on a foot that last Friday night was surgically repaired to fix a severed tendon. More on him in a bit, because there is a way I see the Penguins winning this series without either Crosby or Malkin getting on a goal roll, and Staal figures in it heavily.
Back to Crosby and Malkin, who are saying all the right things about not being frustrated, which makes me a bit uncomfortable because I actually believe them.
At some points — and actually, I’m way past it — these Montreal Canadiens aren’t a bad team, an eighth-seed on a run, or just a gutsy club with no quit in it. At some point, these Canadiens are a well-coached unit that is comfortable with its system, which is designed brilliantly to deny quality scoring chances to skilled superstars.
Consider this number: 1. That would be the goals scored by Crosby, Malkin and Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin over the last six games against Montreal. That isn’t an accident, kiddies.
However, nobody who watched Game 4 can convince me that Crosby and Malkin aren’t getting quality chances, which leads me to believe that at some point they’re going to break out big. This is why I’m having a hard time getting worked up — as I suspect some Penguins fans already are — about this even-after-four series.
A) The Penguins did their job at Montreal. They reclaimed home-ice advantage. If they lost Game 3 and win Game 4 everybody in Pittsburgh is thrilled. Go vice-versa, as they did, and the panic will hit a point that I’m half expecting that mothers will keep their daughters off the streets until Game 5 on Saturday night. Yinz… must… chill.
B) To me, this series goes one of two ways: Crosby and Malkin bust out, or maybe just make a little move, and that’s enough to put the Penguins over the top in games that, for Montreal to win, must be tight. The other possibility is they never get going. If that happens, everybody simply tips their caps to the Canadiens for another superstar-beatdown remarkably well done. I’m not betting on it, but stranger things have happened. For example, while in Old Montreal on Wednesday night I spied a star of iconic Canadian teen soap “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” and the cat seemed completely dissatisfied to be have been recognized. That’s not the strange part; I’m pretty sure the strange part was me recognizing a star of a teen soap. Pretty sure. My point is that the smart money remains on Crosby and Malkin not finishing the series with one goal between them — and on Holly J. eventually making a move on Spinner (for those who also watch “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”)
C) Staal’s return is going to give the Penguins this series. See, told you I’d get back to him. Game 4 was his test-run. He handled it well. If he is back to his 18-20 minutes self in Game 5, the Canadiens better hope G Jaroslav Halak has it going on in that contest and the remaining ones. He’ll be the only reason they have a chance. Staal, as former Penguins D Rob Scuderi told me before the series, is the one player for whom the Canadiens have no answer. It’s because of the wild-card option he provides coach Dan Bylsma. A regular-workload from Staal will allow Bylsma to play Crosby and Malkin together a lot more often because “The Nightmare Line” of Staal, LW Matt Cooke and RW Tyler Kennedy can essentially become a No. 2 line at that point. The Canadiens are going to have a tough time stopping Crosby and Malkin if they are on the same line for more than end-of-period shifts, as has been the case with Staal either out or limited. Plus, I’m not sure Staal won’t chip in a couple of goals in Game 5 and beyond. His size-skill combo is tailor made to work over the Montreal defense because the Canadiens aren’t going to use shutdown D-pair Josh Gorges and Hal Gill against Staal — especially if Malkin and Crosby are together.
Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts before packing and heading back to Pittsburgh. As always, share yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— ROSSI, from Montreal