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Why not to believe ANYTHING about Sid and Geno, and not to believe in momentum.

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While awaiting another flight to Tampa on Sunday afternoon, I figured an update was long overdue. But, before that – some notes and thoughts on this series between the Penguins and Lightning, a couple of personal messages:

= Happy Easter.

= God speed, Dad. Never have I wanted to cover a Stanley Cup playoff game less.

 

Anyway, now onto some hockey-related matters:

= At this point, anybody who claims to know how to read these daily developments of the Penguins’ injured superstar centers (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) is jerking you around. I don’t, and I’m in direct contact with their respective camps and team officials. As I informed a local media colleague Saturday during Game 5 at Consol Energy Center – truly, I don’t know what to believe anymore about the respective statuses of Crosby (concussion) and Malkin (right knee). All I can offer is this from a person with longtime ties to the organization. This person told me Saturday that – based off what he’s been told – he would expect Malkin back before Crosby this postseason.

Really, though, who knows?

I can offer this observation: A few weeks ago when the Penguins casually dropped notice that Malkin required surgery on just one of the two torn ligaments in his right knee, that information led to whispers within the organization that he might be able to play if the team went on a deep playoff run. I asked then what “deep” implied, and was told deep meant conference finals or Stanley Cup Final. Privately, nobody has backed away from the potential for Malkin to return, but I would be remiss if not passing along that several teammates of Malkin’s believe that potential is slim.

To paraphrase what one teammate close with both Malkin and Crosby said: Penguins players aren’t counting on having either for this postseason run – though, I do sense, generally, that the players are resolute in not wanting to allow their thoughts to go there, so to speak. If they get geared for a return of either player, and that return doesn’t happen, the emotional letdown would be an unnecessary obstacle to overcome at a time when there clearly are so many obstacles to overcome.

Finally, there is at least a decent chance that the Penguins could pull a fast one on everybody and play either Crosby or Malkin – probably Malkin, given the uncertain nature a concussion recovery – sooner than anticipated. After all, the Flyers dressed D Chris Pronger for Game 6 of their series against the Sabres, and this development came only days after he was reportedly guaranteed to miss all of Round 1.

This time of year the only thing anybody can believe about injuries is that believing anything is probably a mistake.

 

= To everybody who has asked me over the past 24 hours what I think about momentum as it pertains to this series: I don’t believe in the concept of momentum for ANY playoff series. Some reasons why:

  • 2007: The Penguins lost three straight games, including Games 3 and 4 at home, after rallying from a blitzkrieg-loss in Game 1 at Ottawa to claim home-ice advantage with a surprising Game 2 win. The Penguins scored first in Game 3 – a riveting development at Civic Arena, which hadn’t played host to a postseason game in seven years – the day after that Game 2 victory, but they still lost Game 3 and 4 then bowed when the series went back to Ottawa. This was the first example of this Penguins era that experience matters in a playoff series, that teams that lack it often have a hard time responding to big road wins.
  • 2008: The Red Wings were within a minute of winning the Cup on home ice in Game 5, only to see the Penguins pull even on C Max Talbot’s goalie-pulled score and win in a third overtime on RW Petr Sykora’s marker that was set up by an inspirational return from injury by D Sergei Gonchar. The younger and fast-gaining Penguins headed home for Game 6, and there was a real feel that they’d win to force Game 7. A soft goal allowed by G Marc-Andre Fleury changed everything, and as Game 6 wound down with the Penguins scrambling to pull even it was appearance that momentum didn’t mean much if the opponent the next game could call upon experience, as the Red Wings could. Another example of an inexperienced team not being able to back up a big road win.
  • 2009: The Penguins finished off the Flyers and Capitals – perhaps the two Eastern teams more talented than them on paper – on the road after failing to clinch those series at Civic Arena. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit at Philadelphia in Game 6. In a Game 7 at Washington, in a building that was louder than anything I’ve experienced on this beat, they held off an early charge and turned that game on a dime with the combination of Fleury’s denial of Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway and a goal by Crosby that staked the Penguins a 1-0 lead. This postseason the Penguins were the experienced team, able to shake off a home loss with the series on the line to win a road game to seal the deal. Notice a trend? (Also, as I’m sure everybody can recall, the Penguins won back-to-back 2-1 games to close out the Red Wings after taking it on the chin, 5-0, in Game 5 at Detroit in the 2009 Final.)
  • 2010: After losing in overtime in Game 5 at Civic Arena with a chance to bounce the Senators, the Penguins trailed, 3-0, in Game 6 at Ottawa before surging back for an overtime victory. I distinctly remember speaking with an Ottawa scribe between at the second intermission, both of us wondering aloud if the Senators could carry over these good vibes into a Game 7 at Pittsburgh. At that point a national writer interrupted to suggest we let the Senators finish off Game 6. They didn’t. They couldn’t even keep momentum in that game.

The residue from last postseason, when the Penguins dropped three of four against the Canadiens after going up 2-1, remains on the tongues of many fans. That is understandable. Still, even if they lose this series, I’ll contest this series represents an entirely different dynamic than the loss to Montreal season. These Penguins are playing a Lightning squad that is better on paper, and they went up 3-1 in this series because they were able to gut out two one-goal victories on the road. I’m convinced this Lightning squad is better than the Canadiens from last spring, and if that sounds like me setting up an excuse for the Penguisn to drop this series – well, not so fast, dear readers.

Beating a mentally tough team – and there is not one tougher in the NHL right now than the Penguins – three games in a row would be an impressive accomplishment for any opponent. I’m not sold yet that this Lightning team, though impressive is in its two series wins, is that opponent, even if momentum is seemingly on its side.

Teams that execute better win playoff games and the best team almost always wins a best-of-seven series. That is what I believe. Momentum is something that really doesn’t exist, which is why I wouldn’t rule out the Penguins winning a Game 7 even if they lost Game 6 on Monday by another wide margin.

 

= Fleury has gone 62 straight playoff games without losing three in a row in the postseason. Over that span he has only lost two consecutive postseason games four times, and the Penguins have split those series – winning an East semifinal and the Cup Final in 2009; losing the 2008 Final and an East semifinal last postseason. Sure, this is more of a team stat than an individual one, but it speaks to my confidence that this Penguins team is ready for a spot like the one this series has presented.

 

= Anybody shocked that the Penguins have been abysmal on the power play through five games was choosing to ignore obvious signs that such a performance was likely. They scored 12 power-play goals over the final 29 games without Crosby and Malkin, and three of those came in that fight-marred blowout loss at Long Island on Feb. 11. Three more came over the final three games, all against non-playoff teams. Against playoff teams over the last 29 regular-season games the Penguins went 2-for-48 on the power play. That is a 4.2 percent efficiency rate, comparable to their 4 percent rate this series.

 

Cheers,

Rossi

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Comments

  1. sabu says says:

    Fatigue had alot to do with that loss to Montreal last season. There’s still a chance a rematch with them may yet happen again. i hope the coaches and scounting staffs are preparing for that, for they haven’t been very succesful against them recently (as well as Boston).

    If the pens aren’t getting to the final..id as soon lose to Tampa. I couldn’t stomach a loss to the the Flyers (who look fatigued to me as well) or Washington. those might be tough nuts to crack without 87 or 71. There’s no way either sid or geno are coming back till next fall.

  2. sabu says says:

    and also…Hey Rob..did you see that Mike Richards cheap shot on Timmy Connolly?
    If thats not suspension worthy, then what is? No doubt about Matt Cooke being the league scapegoat..seeing how Richards was pretty much the initiator of all this a couple of seasons back with his endless cheap shots.

  3. Shawn says:

    I have a suggestion for Matt Cooke.

    Change your number to 18 and your last name to Richards…and you will be allowed to maim as many people as you like.

  4. PensfaninLAexile says:

    Which is the “soft” goal? Was it goal #3? If so, Fleury did exactly the right thing. When there is a scramble and you aren’t sure where the puck is, but you think it’s under you or behind you, sit on it. It was just bad luck that the disc was in the exact spot where sitting would squirt it into the net.

    If, on the other hand you were referring to goal #2 …. nevermind.

  5. tomas says:

    Washington and Philadelphia more talented than the team that actually won the cup in 2009??? I guess they were if you didn’t factor in the lousy goaltenders both organizations usually employ. I wonder if Disco Dan will continue to show so much faith in the AHL’ers Connors, Letestu and Lovejoy he just needs to get in the lineup for every game. There’s no use in adding big & physical players like Tangradi and Englland that Tampa isn’t capable of handling, when instead you can play AHL skill level players like Chris Connor and Ben Lovejoy that are just as soft as most of the Tampa roster.

  6. The Binker says:

    We drafted Jordan Staal ahead of Jonathan Toews?

    Please tell me that didn’t happen.

  7. 66 is the best says:

    If Crosby is not coming back in the playoffs than stop having him practice with the team so we can all see him show off his skills that the teams needs right now on Root sports in the injury report..I am tired of the Bylsma and Shero silly baby talk if he is good enough to fly around in practice he can get on the ice..or is he just on the ice in practice to teaase people into buying playoff tickets….What a joke.

  8. NYCrosbyfan says:

    Question – Is there an NHL rule that the team must announce ahead of time who is and isn’t playing? Is it possible that one day Sid could skate onto the ice just before the start of a game with no prior notice/no fanfare? Just curious how this works …

  9. travis says:

    Well, clearly ‘tomas’ hasn’t watched a singles Penguins game all season if he’s calling Chris Conner and Ben Lovejoy soft.

    Get a clue, pal.

  10. Jeff says:

    Binker,
    Jordan Staal will be in the league a lot longer than Toews. Wingers come and go. Guys like Staal are what lasts in the NHL. I’d much rather have him. He’s one of the top PK guys in the league.

  11. sabu says says:

    jordan staal is a shut down defensive center to check the other teams big centers and win faceoffs, which he usually does….a selke trophy candidate for pete’s sake.. there was no need for a toews when you already had crosby and malkin. besides they couldnt afford to pay him anyway what he was going to get. .

  12. tomas says:

    You’re right Travis that Chris Connor and Ben Lovejoy aren’t soft but totally useless minor leaguers. Don’t change one thing about this lineup for Wednesday “Disco Dan” because your collection of AHL’ers Letestu, Connors and Lovejoy will save the series!!!

  13. Tim says:

    Right now, Tampa is flying and the Pens look out of sync defensively. My man MAF just isn’t coming up with the big save and the power play? ah, man, it’s too sad to talk about. I can’t believe that is what they have been practicing. Letang looks frustrated, drop passes while gaining the zone? Hmm? why is no one at the top of the key? the third forward gets lost. But, all things being said, give them the love they deserve Pittsburgh fans. But its’ all up to MAF. Bring your best, baby.

  14. sjb says:

    Sabu, I don’t know what you’ve been huffing, but Staal is terrible to just ok on faceoffs.

  15. Steve says:

    Anyone in the medical profession will tell you a ACL reconstruction is at least 6 months of rehab so lets put that to rest. Sidney with no contact in practice and now not even skating with the team is a no brainer. Pens only played the card to fuel speculation of Sids return when seriously there was really none to begin with and we just needed something to hold on to going into the playoffs.

    Goes to show with twitter, email, Versus, NBC, TSN, ESPN, Spector’s Hockey, etc, etc, etc. do you really need all this information when a little common sense is all is needed. Seriously, all the media outlets are continually to say anything to keep you watching and a majority of these clowns are in the booth because they only have the gift of gab do to the fact that they are either washed up as player or general manager.

    Common sense: No Sid no Geno. So whats to report. Possibly nothing after Wednesday night.

  16. The Binker says:

    We drafted Marc-Andre Fleury ahead of Eric Staal?

    Please tell me that didn’t happen.

  17. Ryan says:

    Since Niskanen got an assist last night, I doubt he gets yanked. But Engelland needed to be in the line-up the past 2 games…Orpik needs some help clearing the front of the net because he is the only one doing so. Unfortunately, I doubt Engelland gets the call for game 7 since he hasn’t played in about a month.

    Remember that hit Orpik layed on Stamkos to start the series…what happened to that physicality? The Pens aren’t hitting the way they did in game one and wearing down Tampa, it is the exact opposite.

  18. Ron M says:

    Go Pens!

  19. The Binker says:

    The best goalie in the series was 41 years old.

    Very sad.

 
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