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May 28, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Quotes, Sharks and the Missing Link

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Some odds and ends from today’s practice in Cranberry.

Bryan Rust on his newfound celebrity: “Definitely more people are noticing me, that’s for sure. It’s obviously a really great feeling, but I think the feeling of going to the Stanley Cup Final trumps it.”

Phil Kessel’s scouting report on the Sharks is awesome because it could literally be used before every playoff series beyond the first round in the history of hockey: “Obviously they’ve played unbelievable hockey down the stretch and in the playoffs. They’re a great team. They’ve got a lot of great players. It’s going to be tough. Real tough.”

— When people talk about why Kessel is so good in the playoffs, they usually talk about his calm demeanor. I’m guilty of doing that too. Sidney Crosby, however, has a better reason for why Kessel seems to be a strong postseason performer: “With his shot, especially the way the playoffs are, everything’s so tight, there’s not a lot of time and space, it works out pretty good for him with that release he has and how dangerous he is.”

— Having talked to Crosby a bunch this season, I feel like this quote really summarizes how he feels about this series. In most cases, he thinks games aren’t decided by any of the noise that sports writers spend a lot of time talking about: “We’ll see who executes and who’s at their best here in the final round.”

Now, how about a list of 10 players you didn’t know played for the San Jose Sharks:

— Colby Armstrong’s little brother Riley Armstrong played two games in 08-09.

— In between much more memorable stints with Chicago and Dallas, Ed Belfour worked in 13 games with the Sharks in 96-97.

Brad Boyes went on to be a 40-goal scorer, but his first NHL game was a one-game call-up from the Cleveland Barons to the Sharks in 03-04.

Dave Brown is one of the toughest men to ever play in the NHL. You probably remember him with the Flyers. He played 37 games with San Jose in 95-96.

— Everyone remembers the Penguins getting Bill Guerin from the Islanders at the trade deadline in 2009. Fewer remember the Sharks picking him up from the Blues at the deadline in 2007.

— Famous for his skullet and huge slap shot, Al Iafrate played 59 games for San Jose in 96-98.

— Former Penguins defenseman Jim Kyte, the hearing impaired heavyweight, played 75 games for the Sharks from 94-96.

Claude Lemieux finished up his career with 18 games for the Sharks in 08-09.

— Before he became Jaromir Jagr’s buddy with the Penguins, Kip Miller played 11 games for the Sharks in 93-94.

— If you’re like me, you know Chris Terreri as Martin Brodeur’s backup. He also went 19-39-4 with the Sharks from 95-97.

Finally, former Sharks winger Link Gaetz is one of the most maniacal enforcers in NHL history. Watch a highlight video of his exploits. Some Joey Kocur and Bob Probert in there. Good times.

 

Bye for now,

jb

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May 27, 2016
by Bill West


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ECF Game 7 GIF-cap

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It’s pretty late, so I’m going to slack off and just deliver the GIFs. Enjoy!

Meet two of the smarter coaches in the NHL. It was a pleasure to watch them over the course of seven games.

Bryan Rust is not a shy rookie.

I’m sure there are haters somewhere who took issue with something Sidney Crosby did tonight. Penguins Twitter comes prepared for such instances.

Ian Cole has no chill. But I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the anything-goes NHL.

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May 27, 2016
by Bill West


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Game 7 as Sullivan saw it

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Even Penguins coach Mike Sullivan found the emergence of Bryan Rust as the hero of Game 7 remarkable if not downright absurd.

But Sullivan warned Penguins fans well before Friday’s 2-1 win over Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals that this team went so much deeper than its stars. And he opened his post-game press conference with that reality in mind.

“I can’t even explain to you how excited I am for the group we have and how proud I am of them for how hard we play for each other,” Sullivan said. “You know, I’ve been in the game a long time, and you don’t always get associated with a group that has the chemistry this group has, and when you do, it’s something special. I believe that we have evolved into a team in the true sense of the word, and I thought tonight it was on display.”

About that two-goal night from Rust, though…

“I’m not sure Rusty would have been the guy I would have picked, but certainly I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be happier for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now,” Sullivan said. “To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.

“So for me, once again, I know there’s a lot of stories that surround this group, but the greatest story of all is the group itself. And for me, when you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself, it’s a special feeling, and I know these guys have it right now.”

What did that full-team effort look like as a graphic? Just take a look.

Pens Bolts Gm 7 final Corsi Pens Bolts Gm 7 scoring chances

The line of Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist led the way from a puck possession perspective. But all four of the Penguins’ lines found opportunities to wreak havoc on Tampa Bay with forechecking, a central ingredient in Sullivan’s Right Way to Play recipe.

Sheary tried to identify all that goes into the “right way.”

“I think it’s all the little things,” Sheary said. “I think when you’re in the O-zone, you have to reload. You have to backcheck. You can’t just take a step off and let them get on the rush. And then you have to be defensive-minded, even as an offensive player. You have to commit to defense. Those little things that some people might not notice are the little things that I think he means by playing the right way.”

Of course, Sheary, Rust and the others heard about “the right way” and the team concepts well before Sullivan took over the Penguins in December.

For Sullivan, the opportunity to still discuss the former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton guys in late May clearly ranks among his playoff highlights.

“Well, those guys were huge,” Sullivan said. “I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played. Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays — plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit. There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.

“And I couldn’t be happier for this group of players. I think that the young kids are bringing the energy and enthusiasm. The veteran guys, I think, have been great mentors for these kids, and I think that’s why we have the dynamic we have.”

“I also told them that we’re not finished yet. We’ve got to reenergize and be ready for the next round here. That’s the most important one of all.”

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May 26, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 7 Tampa Bay pregame

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The beauty of a Game 7 is its randomness.

Just ask Max Talbot.

A cottage industry has sprung up analyzing hockey stats and trends, and a lot of those concepts have been discussed here at length over the course of the season. But the usefulness of statistical analysis dwindles dramatically when the sample size is small.

And no sample size is smaller than one game.

And that makes Game 7 so wonderfully random.

Unlikely heroes emerge in Game 7, they say, and that’s undoubtedly true. No one will forget Talbot’s pair of goals in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.

But unlikely heroes also emerge in Game 3. Or Game 37 of the regular season. We just don’t remember those. Talbot scored two goals five other times in his NHL career, including once in a playoff game in 2012, but nobody remembers them.

Scoring one goal in one game is an objective pretty much every player in the NHL is capable of reaching. It’s just that when the one game is a Game 7, it lives in history forever.

Some notes on Game 7 trends:

— The hockey playoff adage I’ve always believed a little bit is the one that says if you win 6, you win 7.

In Penguins history, it’s remarkably true.

The Penguins have played 14 seven-game series in their history. The winner of Game 6 has won Game 7 in 13 of those series. The lone exception was against Washington in 2009, when the Penguins lost 6 but won 7.

— Home-ice advantage isn’t nearly as important as who wins Game 6. Home teams, all-time in the NHL, are 96-69 in Game 7 (.589 winning percentage). They’re 2-2 this year.

— First goal is pretty important. In NHL history, teams that score first in Game 7 are 123-42 (.745). In the regular season, teams that score first usually win about two-thirds of the time, so it’s a somewhat statistically significant difference. This year, teams scoring first in Game 7 are 4-0.

“First goal is important any time you’re playing, especially against a team like Tampa that has a pretty good neutral zone, a pretty good defensive shell if they get a lead,” Eric Fehr said. “The neutral zone can be pretty important and getting the first goal is a big part of that. You want to score first. You want to score first at home. Goals are tough to come by, especially in a Game 7, so scoring first always helps.”

Fehr, it should be noted, isn’t terribly concerned with these Game 7 stats as a whole.

“I don’t pay attention to any of those stats because at the end of the day, it’s a different game,” he said. “It’s a new game every time. Anything can happen in a Game 7.”

And Game 3. And Game 37 of the regular season.

Some quotes from the locker room after morning skate:

Ben Lovejoy: “This is a team that doesn’t need 40 shots to score three or four goals. Tampa can beat you as soon as they get one opportunity. They don’t need a lot of shots. We want to be focused and ready from the get-go.”

Patric Hornqvist, on whether the Penguins will have the same game plan as Game 6: “Only change is there’s going to be a handshake after the game. That’s probably the only difference.”

Hornqvist on the mood of the room: “Exactly the same thing. I think we’re calm, we’re focused, we’re confident. Just go out there and have fun and take advantage of this opportunity we have here in front of us.”

Fehr on following the lead of star players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, et al: “We expect those guys to lead the charge. Obviously everybody’s there to back them up. We’re going to do our best to support them. But those guys have been there for us all year. We expect the same.”

Matt Cullen: “The game happens fast, and that’s why it’s so important that you can’t afford to sit back and watch and see what happens. You’ve got to get out there and try to dictate the play and try to take it to the other team. If you can start first and start fast, you give yourself a good advantage.”

Ian Cole: “I think in any game situation, you try to visualize certain plays. Do I for the next nine hours constantly replay the game and what’s going to happen? No. I think that might do more detriment than good. I think it’s something where you do want to be aware of the situation, but you can’t let it control your game. What it comes down to is it’s just going to be another game. You really have to go out and not let the situation get the better of you. I don’t think you can change the way you’re playing based on the fact that it is a Game 7.”

Mike Sullivan: “These are the types of games that you grow up, I think, dreaming to play in, to be a part of. This is why we train so hard all season long. We bring that all to bear tonight.”

Sullivan on his pregame speech: “I think a lot in these moments, it comes from the heart. I’m not sure at this point that a whole lot needs to be said. I think a whole lot has been said. For us, it’s about embracing the moment and owning your own game and bringing everything to the table that you can to help the team win. It’s such a great feeling to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and these are the type of circumstances that epitomize that.”

More after the game. Bye for now,

jb

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May 25, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Rest as a Weapon

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The Penguins have had a good bit of success in recent days using rest as a weapon.

Olli Maatta sat out three games after a string of poor play. Since returning, he has three assists and is a plus-3 in two games.

Conor Sheary sat out a game after struggling badly in the middle of the Lightning series. He set up Kris Letang’s goal in Game 6.

Matt Murray famously sat in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5, then returned to the lineup and performed well in Game 6.

In the playoffs, when legs are weary, perhaps a day off can make a world of difference.

Sullivan said as much Wednesday when further explaining his goaltending decisions over the past two games.

“I think you guys always insinuate that, when someone doesn’t play, they get benched. That wasn’t the case at all. So sometimes I think you guys put words into our mouth that really is not our intention as the coaching staff. Matt played a lot of hockey. He played a lot of games. This is a battle you’re playing every other night. If it was the regular season, we probably wouldn’t play our starting goalie that many games in a row. As a young goaltender, sometimes that’s a tough load to carry. So we felt as though it was the right time for Marc, to give him an opportunity to get back in the game and try to win us a hockey game, and we were going to take it game by game, and we explained that to Matt, and we explained that to Marc.”

Some other highlights from the Penguins’ media availability this morning in Tampa:

— Sullivan on what he expects from Sidney Crosby in Game 7: ” We just — we expect him to be himself. And when he does that, he’s a great player. He helps us win. And that’s what he did last night. We don’t expect any one of our players to carry the load for this team. This team has had success because it’s been a team and everyone participates and contributes to helping us win. That’s the message to our players is let’s just play the game the right way and be yourself, play to your strengths, and that’s what we expect all of our players to do.”

— Sullivan, on what he plans to say before Game 7: “I don’t know that a lot needs to be said. I think the players understand the situation. It’s no different than what we just played last night. It’s for us, and this will be our message to them again. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity to play at this time of year, to put a stamp on these playoffs, to establish ourselves as a group, and we have to look at it in those terms. We’ve got to embrace the challenge, embrace the moment. Everybody’s got to go out there and play hard, and most importantly, play hard for each other. This group has been through a lot this year, and as I said all along here, I think we’ve got a nice chemistry in our room, which is great to see, and I know these guys are going to play hard for one another.”

— Sidney Crosby, on the momentum the Penguins might have from winning Game 6: “Yeah, I think everything is out the window. I think Game 7, the desperation level of both teams is going to be there. You expect that. It just comes down to executing and who’s going to do a better job.”

 

— Crosby, on his three game-winning goals in this series: “Well, you want to produce, especially this time of year. You want to contribute. But I think we have a lot of belief, a lot of trust in everybody. But it’s worked out that way. Yeah, I think that we just really believe in one another and believe that someone will step up to get that big play, whether it’s a goal or a blocked shot, anything. That’s what you need.”

— Carl Hagelin, who played with the Rangers last season when they lost to Tampa in Game 7 in the conference finals: “I think that game we didn’t play good at all. It was one of those games where we had nothing. This is a different team. This is a team that really believes in one another and believes that we can score a goal and be a threat offensively when we do the right things. At the same time, we can shut things down.”

— Hagelin, on his Game 7 philosophy: “This is not the time to play scared. I think, when we’re being aggressive, playing in the offensive zone, that’s when we’re at our best. Our team knows that. We know that we have to push the pace.”

Bye for now,

jb

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May 25, 2016
by Bill West


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ECF Game 6 GIF-cap

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These last few games between the Penguins and Lightning have provided almost too many moments to sufficiently cover with a GIF recap. But here’s a modest effort on my part to revisit the highs and lows of Tuesday’s 5-2 win at Amalie Arena, which tied the series at 3.

Kessel’s crazy hand-eye coordination: Phil thrills in many ways. His best trick in Tuesday’s win? Redirecting airborne pucks with his stick anytime he got the chance. Once it worked out in the Penguins’ favor. Once it blew up in their face.

Angry Geno: The Penguins stayed out of the penalty box in Game 6, an important development for them after they took some ill-advised liberties and got caught in Game 4 and 5. Evgeni Malkin served the team’s only minor on Tuesday, and while it was an unwise act (mostly because he got caught), he probably still found some satisfaction in it.

Dangles for days: Sidney Crosby decided he needed a new highlight goal, seeing as his Game 2 overtime winner has gone stale. So he swerved his way through Tampa Bay’s top defensive pair.

Boiling blood and Boyle: No clear villain existed among the Lightning at the beginning of this series — certainly no one of the Alex Ovechkin or Marc Staal persuasion. But Brian Boyle has done a fine job of filling the void. He antagonized Crosby in Game 1. He got in Kris Letang’s head in Game 4. And he provided all kinds of fodder for Penguins fans to stew over in Game 6 by scoring both of Tampa Bay’s goals and celebrating in style.

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May 25, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 6 Tampa Bay postgame

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When analyzing the numbers from the first six games of the Eastern Conference finals, colleague Bill West came to a conclusion.

For the Penguins to win, just having an edge in possession hasn’t been enough.

If the Penguins only out-possess Tampa Bay slightly, a quick, skilled opportunistic Lightning attack will probably make them pay.

The Penguins have really had success in this series when they out-possess the Lightning by a large margin, like they did in the first two periods tonight. At the start of the third period, they held a 26-11 edge in shots and a 40-20 advantage in shot attempts.

That’s what the picture has to look like for the Penguins to have success.

There are two other factors that helped the Penguins out tonight, too. Factors that hadn’t necessarily been present in the first five games.

They got a couple breaks and they got clutch goaltending in the third period.

At the 5:12 mark of the first period, Tampa Bay had a goal waved off when replays showed Jonathan Drouin was offside by inches. His front foot was over the blue line by a narrow margin and his back foot was up in the air when the puck entered the zone.

It was the right call, but it was so close it could have gone the other way. That counts as a break in my book.

Later in the period, Evgeni Malkin took a retaliation slashing penalty in the offensive zone. Tampa didn’t score on the power play. That’s a break.

With 3:06 left in the first period, Matt Murray cleared a puck that hit the very top of the glass, thus avoiding a delay of game call. A minute later, Victor Hedman cleared a puck from the middle of his own zone that cleared the glass in the offensive zone 150 feet away. That’s a break.

The Penguins capitalized on that one with a five-on-three goal.

Tampa put together another third-period rally, threatening to erase a Penguins lead for the second straight game.

Murray made 17 of his 28 saves in the period. Brian Boyle scored twice to make it 3-2, but the Lightning never found the equalizer.

So to sum up, the Penguins got dominant possession, a couple of breaks and clutch goaltending. That’s a formula that almost always works.

Now some postgame quotes:

“I think my breakaway percentage is now 1 for 10, 10 percent. I’ll still rely more on my energy game.” — Bryan Rust, on his important breakaway insurance goal with 2:08 to play.

“You see in the third period, when we sit back, they play with that speed, they play with that power and puck possession that really puts us back on our heels. When we do it to them, for the first 40 minutes, they didn’t have a lot of quality chances and the ones they did have, our goaltender stopped.” — Chris Kunitz, on Tampa’s third-period rally

“I just told them to embrace the moment. It’s a great opportunity for us. These are the types of circumstances where you have an opportunity to write your own story, and that’s what we wanted to
do.” — Mike Sullivan on his pregame address to the team

“I think it was a huge moment in the game. (Video coordinator Andy Saucier) saw it. He radioed it to (assistant coach Rick Tocchet) and it was close, but he felt as though it was offside, and it was close enough that we certainly wanted to challenge it. It was a great call by him. It was certainly, I think, a
big part of the game. If they get the first goal, it lights up the building, and all of a sudden, momentum gets difficult. So I thought it was a great call by Sauce, and certainly, I think, our team actually got a
boost from it because we knew we had dodged a bullet there.” — Sullivan on Drouin’s waved-off goal

“Yeah, I mean, that’s out of my control, I think. So that’s 100 percent of the coach’s decision, and he’s going to make the decision he thinks is going to give us the best chance to win. It’s not my job to worry about his decision. It’s my job to be ready if my name is called, and if my name is called, to go out and play my heart out and compete. So, yeah, I’m not really worried about that too much.” — Matt Murray on being benched for Game 5 and returning to win Game 6

Bye for now,

jb

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May 24, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 6 Tampa Bay postgame

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Have you wondered what captain Sidney Crosby’s words to his teammates will be before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight?

I think his comments after morning skate provided a clue.

“We all know the circumstances. We just gotta go win a game. It’s up to everyone else to kind of analyze all the different storylines around it, but it’s pretty simple. If you grew up playing hockey, to win a semifinal or win a final, you had to play these type of games. It’s the situation that we’re in. It’s really pretty easy. You’ve got to win a game. It’s pretty clear.”

It’s not the kind of sentiment that would make for a good scene in a Hollywood movie, but it seems appropriate given the circumstances.

Remind his teammates that they’ve been in this situation before in their careers. Remind them to ignore the noise. Ask them to play the same game that got them to this point. Ask them to focus on one shift at a time.

Some other highlights from Crosby’s pregame meeting with the media:

— Crosby’s take on the big news of the morning, which is that Matt Murray will be starting in goal:

“It doesn’t seem like any situation has really fazed him or surprised him. He’s handled each challenge like he’s been through it way beyond his years. He’s always been confident and showed a lot of poise and those are the biggest things that have stuck out to me.”

— Crosby’s take on “guarantees” offered by Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin over the last couple of days:

“I think we all believe it. Whether you say it publicly or not, there’s a certain amount of belief that goes into that. I think you feel that regardless of whether it’s said over the course of an interview or not. To get that though, you have to go through different things. In order to get that, though, you have to go through different things. I think we have been able to go through that as a group and kind of develop that.”

— I’ve read some takes on Twitter saying the Penguins were a confident group this morning. I don’t know if confidence is something an outsider can truly gauge just by watching a hockey team skate and take off their equipment in the locker room. But I think it’s safe to say they weren’t noticeably tight or jittery.

Here’s Crosby’s take on the mindset of the room:

“It’s a big challenge. Obviously you see what you’re made of in these situations. We’ve been in different situations all year, a lot of different things, a lot of different adversity, and we’ve always responded the right way. I would expect that here tonight.”

– Finally, how about a brief comment on the actual hockey that has been played in this series?

There’s been a lot of discussion of how badly the Penguins have outshot the Lightning over the course of five games. Their shots advantage is 190-123. Their shot attempts edge is 326-224.

I think the Penguins are happy with the amount of possession they’ve had. They’re happy with their number of scoring chances. What they’re focused on improving is their play during the times where Tampa Bay has the puck. They need to have better sort-outs and better D-zone coverage. They can’t let Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov fling around backdoor passes in the offensive zone.

“You want to get shots. You want to generate chances. It’s nice when you can look up at the board and feel like you’re generating good chances, but the only ones that matter is how many goals you put up on the board. That’s the most important thing, and making sure we defend well. Even if they’re not getting a ton of shots, making sure they’re not good quality chances. It’s just going to come down to executing and making sure we’re at our best and doing all the little things that you’re doing all playoff long.”

More after the game. Bye for now,

jb

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May 23, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 5 Tampa Bay postgame

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Mike Sullivan didn’t want to talk about Marc-Andre Fleury’s performance immediately after Game 5 tonight.

“I’m not going to assess his game right after the game,” Sullivan said. “It’s obviously a disheartening game that we just lost. I’d rather digest it a little bit before I jump to any conclusions.”

I have a feeling fans aren’t going to do the same.

With that in mind, here is a look at Fleury’s comments from after his 21-save showing.

“They just put the puck on net, it hit their guy, and it was in.”

That’s Fleury describing Tyler Johnson’s game-winning goal 53 seconds into overtime. It looked like Fleury was in position to stop Jason Garrison’s shot from the left half-wall, but when the puck hit Johnson in the back and changed directions, he was beaten.

“A little bit. It wasn’t the best I felt in a game, but still, though, I’ve been practicing a lot. I should have been better, especially on that first goal. It was stupid. Tough to lose.”

That’s Fleury answering whether he felt rusty. The first goal he’s referring to was an Alex Killorn shot from the left wall that went in over the goalie’s left shoulder.

“The guys in here know we’ve had a great run. We’ve had a great end to the season there. We’re still confident that we have a team that can beat them. Nothing’ s over. It’s best out of seven. Go back there and get one.”

The Lightning have been the superior team for the past two games, by and large, sending the Penguins to consecutive losses for the first time since the middle of January. Fleury’s right that nothing’s over, but the Penguins need the same kind of push-back that Tampa Bay showed after losing Games 2 and 3 of the series if they want to get to a seventh game.

“You’ve got to take every game in the playoffs and have a short memory. You win, you lose, I think you’ve just got to be focused on the next one and be ready for that one.”

The question is, will Fleury start the next one? I don’t envy Sullivan that decision.

Bye for now,

jb

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May 22, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 5 Tampa Bay pregame

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When it comes to making pregame lineup decisions, Game 5 is probably the toughest one of the postseason so far for coach Mike Sullivan.

Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray in net?

Olli Maatta or Derrick Pouliot in for Trevor Daley, who has a broken ankle?

Beau Bennett in for Conor Sheary?

Here are some stats and numbers that look into each of those decisions:

FLEURY VS. MURRAY

The stats in favor of starting Fleury are pretty overwhelming, in my opinion.

In Murray’s first seven starts of the postseason, he was 6-1 with a 1.81 GAA and .944 save percentage. In his last six starts, he’s 3-3 with a 2.99 GAA and .892 save percentage.

Murray has also played 10 playoff games in the last 23 days. He’s never played more than nine games in a postseason in his career, counting juniors and the AHL. He’s 21. I think he’s probably wearing down, at least a little.

 

Add it all up and Murray isn’t the hot goalie anymore.

I also looked at Fleury’s numbers coming off a layoff. After he missed three weeks with his first concussion of this season in December, he came back and played four games in eight days. He went 2-1-1 with a 1.98 GAA and .943 save percentage.

I also looked back at the longest layoff that I could find in Fleury’s career. It was when he missed three months with a high-ankle sprain in 2008. He came back at the beginning of March to go 10-2-1 with a 1.45 GAA and .950 save percentage down the stretch, then turned in the best postseason of his career.

In other words, there’s no reason to think rust will adversely affect Fleury.

It’s pretty much an open-and-shut-case in favor of Fleury, except for this: Since Fleury got hurt March 31, Murray is 16-5. And isn’t that the most important stat of them all?

MAATTA VS. POULIOT

I think the general consensus is that Maatta has been so awful in the playoffs that he must be hurt and he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the ice again.

I think that’s a bit of hyperbole.

Look at a couple of stats:

5-ON-5 GF-GA
LETANG 15-8
COLE 10-4
DALEY 14-13
LOVEJOY 7-6
POULIOT 3-2
SCHULTZ 3-2
DUMOULIN 10-11
MAATTA 4-6
5-ON-5 CORSI FOR
LETANG 54.6
DUMOULIN 52.4
SCHULTZ 52.4
LOVEJOY 50.4
DALEY 49.7
POULIOT 49.3
MAATTA 48.0
COLE 47.2

Maatta’s numbers aren’t good, but it’s not like they jump off the page. They’re commensurate with his teammates, for the most part.

I’m not saying the stats don’t support Pouliot being the guy to get the nod. They do. I’m just giving you some stats to make you feel better when Sullivan picks Maatta, because that’s what I think he’s going to do.

As for the Bennett decision, I’ve been on record as saying that I think as soon as this guy is healthy enough to play, he plays. I know his career is an injury-palooza, but he’s too talented with the puck to keep him on the bench. Sheary has slowed down. The upside of Bennett far outweighs the downside.

One other thing to consider here: Matt Cullen didn’t take the optional morning skate today and Eric Fehr stayed on the ice late at the end of the skate. It might be one of them, not Sheary, who would come out for a potential Bennett return.

Bye for now,

jb

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