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Kovacevic: Core problem? It’s Penguins’ defense

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By DEJAN KOVACEVIC / Trib Total Media

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PHILADELPHIA — The eyes of Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury were still glazed, their expressions frozen like the Wells Fargo Center scoreboard that told the cold reality — Flyers 5, Penguins 1 — of another early Stanley Cup playoff exit. It was all over these close friends’ faces as they rose together and walked out of the locker room.

Only one stayed behind.

Jordan Staal had barely budged from his corner. His sweat-stained undershirt was still on, skates still unlaced, legs straddled and head back as he stared into space.

For all I know, he’s still there. And he’s still wondering how a team this talented, this tough, this blessed by a rare run of good health, with this core of himself and other elite young players already once christened champions, could have crumbled in six games.

During a brief interview in which Staal’s stare never let up, he told me, “We’ve got some great players in here, but we fell short. It’s disappointing.”

Who would dispute it?

You saw Sidney Crosby outclassed by Claude Giroux.

You saw Evgeni Malkin rubbed out by a 19-year-old.

You saw maybe the worst penalty killing in playoff history, thanks to Dan Bylsma’s inexplicably passive strategy.

You saw a power play that looked more interested in style points than shooting on goaltenders better cast as matadors.

And, of course, you saw Marc-Andre Fleury turn sadly soft as a sequel to his brilliant Game 5.

You saw it, and I’m guessing you cringed to the last handshake.

Bad guys win.

And the Penguins … go where?

The frustration of the fan base, I’m sure, will lead to the usual heat-of-the-moment firebreathing. Some will want Bylsma’s head, though that will go rightly ignored. Some will all-out lose their minds — and short-term memory — and want Malkin gone.

TOP OF COLUMN: Matt Cooke and the Penguins' bench are silenced in Game 6 Sunday. ABOVE: The Flyers' Erik Gustaffson celebrates his long-distance wrister in front of Zbynek Michalek. -- Associated Press photos

The core isn’t the problem.

And, no, it isn’t going anywhere.

Ray Shero’s too smart to trade Malkin, and it says here he’ll find a way to keep Crosby and Staal for the long term. The Crosby and Staal contracts are up after next season, so urgency will build. But I can tell you unequivocally that the Penguins have the desire and means to sign both. It’ll take some cap shuffling, but it’s doable.

I asked Staal, as point-blank as was possible through that stare, if he’d like to stay for years to come.

“I love playing here. I love being a part of this group,” he replied. “We’ll see how the future goes.”

And his view of the core?

“We have a good team. We know that. Hopefully, we can build an even better team next year.”

Sound like Staal’s plotting his exit?

Here’s Malkin on the core topic: “I still think we have a great team. I’d like to get one more shot.”

And James Neal: “No one’s going to blow this up.”

Neal’s right, regarding the core. But for the Penguins and that core to take their best shot, this blue line must be blown up.

And I mean ka-boom!

It’s well past time Shero admits his double-doozy of a mistake July 1, 2010, the day he flushed away $45 million on Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Both are colossal busts, and both have a terrifying three years remaining.

Think it’s telling that the defense settled after Martin was removed from the lineup — whatever the reason — after Game 3?

Think it’s telling that Letang logged a superhuman 31:44 of ice time Sunday?

Letang and Matt Niskanen — admirably battling a bum shoulder — were the Penguins’ only acceptable defensemen. Brooks Orpik was OK but not his usual physical self.

But remember that Letang and Orpik were a fine pairing until they were split at midseason to baby-sit Martin and Michalek. And that Fleury was forced into extra work by those two all year, including early in this series.

The front office still sounds confident that Martin and/or Michalek could be traded, given the industry-wide lack of defensemen. No eating of cash required.

Good. Let’s see it.

This defense needs to get younger, faster, stronger and more skilled. The positive is that the system is loaded with terrific prospects. The negative is that the Penguins’ approach to youngsters is akin to that of vampires and crosses. Shero never should have waited until the playoffs to get promising Simon Despres onto the big club. He should have been here in January, learning the NHL game at the level everyone knew he’d be playing.

I saw this team as the Cup favorite. So did the Vegas bettors who made them a prohibitive 4-to-1 favorite. So did Sports Illustrated and many other outlets.

So did Crosby, at least in faith.

“I think everyone believed we had a team capable of doing that,” he said. “But there are no guarantees.”

None whatsoever.

Grade on all our calls: D.

Same as the Penguins’ priority for the summer.

__________

TOP OF COLUMN: Matt Cooke and the Penguins’ bench are silenced in Game 6 Sunday in Philadelphia. ABOVE RIGHT: The Flyers’ Erik Gustaffson celebrates his long-distance wrister in front of Zbynek Michalek. — Associated Press photos

Comments

  1. Chris Y. says:

    The defense was definitely the biggest (of many) problems for the Pens in this series. I do think Zbynek did what was expected of him though and don’t see him as a bad signing. I think Z and Niskanen both played well (Despres also once he finally got a shot). Letang and Orpik were both very disappointing.

    Martin was a disaster. I would love to see him get dealt for picks and/or a quality backup goalie and then have Despres and maybe even Morrow on the team right out of camp next season.

    I think overall the organization has good depth on defense, but you’ve got guys like Martin and Lovejoy taking spots away from some of the younger guys in the system.

  2. Pete Nice says:

    If they are not able to trade Martin and Michalik, could they do like the Rangers do all the time and option them to WBS to free the money and sign a player like Matt Carle? I would think with the new arena and all the NHL exposure that the Pens can afford to eat those salaries in the minors in order to win now.

  3. Dejan Kovacevic says:

    DK: Guys, obviously, our regular site is down. That’s why I’ve put this column right here in its entirety. Any help you can offer in spreading the word would be hugely appreciated.

    Thanks!

  4. Milo Hamilton says:

    THE REGULAR SITE IS DOWN. PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD !

  5. JT says:

    I agree that Paul Martin is a problem for the Pens. Can’t retool the D without moving him. Realistically what could the Pens get for him? Probably not much. Should Shero at all costs make a deal to move Martin just because his cap hit? What if it’s a bad deal? Bad contracts rarely get moved without another bad contract coming back the other way.

    I think Martin can be an effective defenseman, in a more defensive, slower system. Will be interested to see what Shero is able to do. The free agent market for defenseman is pretty weak other than Suter, which might help his cause in trading him, but not replacing him.

    If I had to guess Pens D-core opening night next year…Letang/Orpik Michalek/Niskanen Despres/Engelland…I cant imagine Joe Morrow making the club, but the sooner he is ready the better. That is the type of defenseman the Pens MUST have to play their D system. As much as people long for the days of Gill and Scuderi, cup year was still pretty much Therriens D-zone system. Pens love for the stretch pass and quick breakouts requires great skaters and passers on the back end, not shot blockers and net front clearing guys who arent great passers or skaters…agree with it or not…it is what it is.

    Maybe at some point Bylsma will be forced to adjust the system to the players, and not the players to the system…but thats a story for another day

  6. LeeFoo says:

    The regular site was working just fine two min ago.

    Foo

    .

  7. LeeFoo says:

    Yep…just posted again.

    ????????

    .

  8. hockeymonster says:

    @DK

    Good morning dejan, great column today. Was able to jump on mobile site for quick read. Just wondering when did pens management say that 7 and 4 are tradeable? Was it right after the game yesterday or before? I presume they saw the gaping holes in the defense during the season but didnt want to trade those 2 at the trough of their value and get a subpar return for a playoff run. I’ve been spreading the gospel of trading for shea weber in the off season all season long. Hope the chatter for a move of that stature starts to build. But any and all moves this off season will be about those 2 contracts. Can you imagine losing staal cuz we couldnt move those contracts? UNACCEPTABLE! Personally i think the only way another team would want them from a hockey perspective is if they play a trap and pick them up for a bag of pucks . Michalek came from phx which wasnt a defensive juggernaut but obviously he was better there. And martin came from Mega-trap in jersey. And as a confession i thought they were both good signings at the time based on pens needs and the track record they had but obviously the fit for up tempo hockey wasnt there.

    Thanks again,

    Roland

    DK: It’s been a rather firmly held sentiment for a while now. Hasn’t changed.

  9. JAL says:

    Interesting, two working blogs.

  10. JAL says:

    Oh, not two blogs, just two threads.

  11. PetroSteel says:

    DK,

    You know I’m a big fan of yours! However, Paul Martin didn’t play yesterday and they still did not play winning hockey…I know he is the weak link. However, they have bigger problems than Paul Martin.

    Penalty kill? Yes. But, is the problem the players on the kill or the system? Or the system that never adjusted?

    I like Dan Bylsma, but he was outcoached. A great coach makes adjustments based on what the other team is doing. Dan, never did that.

    My only question to you is…Are you sure that there are no issues in that locker room?

    DK: As the column underscored, Martin’s impact wasn’t about Game 6. It was a cumulative effect of the D being downgraded by those two bad signings.

  12. JaxBuc says:

    @Milo (#4 above) You make me laugh. Thank you, it’s tough after a day like yesterday.

  13. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Good read. Even for us hockey know-littles.

  14. hockeymonster says:

    2 words for all concerned about 7 and 4 “BURKLE BUYOUT” :)

    Filthy rich and successful people like Mr. Burkle dont become rich and successful by throwing money away but i fear it might be necessary so pens arent stuck with bad contracts coming back in any trades that are made involving those whose names i dont want to speak. :)

  15. LeeFoo says:

    JAL…thx for that post on the other blog. DK’s comment made it sound like the Blog site was down.

    The whole thing IS confusing….I feel like a Pens’ defenseman. :) :)

    Pucked up Foo

  16. LeeFoo says:

    “Grade on all our calls: D.

    Same as the Penguins’ priority for the summer.”

    Clever….

    Foo

  17. LeeFoo says:

    Milo…quit shouting…I heard you quite clearly.
    :) :)

  18. hockeymonster says:

    Took a look at ufa’s for d-men. Jason Garrison from fla and Barrett Jackman from stl would be excellent signings…but all contingent on moving those 2 contracts.

  19. JohnS says:

    44 does not deserve a pass. The time is now his career is on a good downward plane.

  20. PetroSteel says:

    DK,

    11 blocked shots versus 40??? Is that what I read? Who wanted it more? That’s the stat in my mind that says which team was willing to do whatever it took to win.

    Again, I understand the Martin issue. But, that in my opinion is not the biggest issue.

    DK: Real-time stats can be skewed based on the home venue. That 40 figure is just ridiculous. The Flyers would have been carted off on stretchers if they blocked 40 shots.

  21. Matthew says:

    The situation is overwhelming. How do you have the third best PK during the regular season (and best ever in Penguins history), and then have the worst PK EVER in the history of the playoffs?

    What a mess. Part of it is the Penguins and their issues, and part of it was matchups against the Flyers. They’ve frequently had our number and they know how to beat us in ways other teams don’t. We probably would have survived this round against a different team. But whatever.

    What a disappointing day.

  22. Ryan says:

    Absolutely must keep Staal, Malkin & Crosby, all three, no exceptions. Three young talents in their low to mid twenties.

    If Staal would like a larger role, pair him with Sid or Geno to roll two stacked lines. Or, if you want a dynamic line full of big bodies, how about trying Malkin, Staal and Neal in training camp. That would be interesting to see IMO.

  23. Dejan Kovacevic says:

    DK: Pirates and Rockies have just been RAINED OUT for tonight. Rescheduled for doubleheader at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday.

  24. JAL says:

    McDonald and Morton scheduled to start the DH, Correia to start tomorrow.

  25. Dave G in Liberty Township, OH says:

    Just signed up to the new website.

    I snagged the user name “Dave G” for article responses, etc., but I guess I still have to use my previous log-on for this blog.

  26. Dave G says:

    Switching my user name, if Dejan can make this happen… (thanks Dejan!)

  27. Dan1283 says:

    Couple things about the new site:

    Looks like the sports page was updated on the Trib…however, the “Blogs” button is gone. There’s a new “Dejan Kovacevic” button that I pressed and figured I would find a link to the blog from there. No dice, just columns. Odd. Tried the home page, no blogs button. Is the site just in the middle of a transformation or is this permanent? To get here I had to go through the Chipped Ice blog link in the middle of the sports section and manuever my way through.

    Now I can obviously make do, but I wonder how someone not very familiar with the Trib website would even be aware that you HAVE a blog, DK. How is it not advertised on your “page”???

    Oh yea, and go get Mike Knuble. I don’t even know where he’s playing right now, but we need his experience and leadership. Trade Kennedy for him. Heck, bust out a “package deal”!!!

    DK: I have a feeling what you’re seeing of the site right now won’t have much at all in common with what you’ll see soon, Dan.

    And yes on Knuble.

  28. Ryan (Nor-Cal Stlrfanrc) says:

    Is anyone thinking that Blysma has to go? I don’t know enough about hockey to say either way, but usually, the head coach/manager takes the fall for this debacle.

  29. Milo Hamilton says:

    Mike Knuble is in Washington. He was a healthy scratch 10 times and was a team worst -15. He’s also been a healthy scratch in 3 of the Caps playoff games and has had a very public spat with coach Dale Hunter. Yep, just the kind of guy we’re looking for. Did I mention he’ll be 40 on opening night ?

  30. stuart66 says:

    While we’re at it, how about an acceptable backup goalie. MAF played too many games, and could have gone into the playoffs rested.
    Stuart

  31. Chris M says:

    Hey Dan,

    Assuming Martin cannot be traded due to the fact he is terrible or he blocks the trade (I believe he has a no trade clause), do you think ownership would give Shero the OK to cast him off to the minors?

    As for Michalek, I thought his play improved once Martin was out of the line up. Saw him blocking more shots, breaking more passes etc. Then again, maybe that was an illusion.

  32. Kenerdivanis says:

    Not only does the Blue Line have to be blown up, I think the Pens were sorely missing guys in the Billy Guerin/Max Talbot/Mike Rupp vein – veteran guys who were good in the room (hockey term). There was clearly a disconnect in the locker room, and I think the team suffered because of it. A little bit of veteran grit would really have helped this team. Would it have prevented what just happened? Probably not, but it has to be addressed for next year. I’m with Milo on Knuble, though – no way.

    Getting rid of Martin or Michalek (I’m for the former, myself) would be a good start to improving the blue line, especially with Morrow and Harrington on their way in the near future.

  33. Clint says:

    I think Shero is going to give the core centers one more year, but will def rebuild that defense. I would put Letang as the only untouchable from this years roster of D. Orpik offers leadership, but some of his big hits were misplaces, and he looked slow in the playoffs and out of place.

    The poor D play hurts Bylsma’s system because it makes players accountable, and when the D kept turning over on the backhand and not clearing the zone, it showed the weaknesses of the system.

    To get something, you must give something up, and it may not just just D. I could see a guy like Kunitz being on the move, and having a top 6 forward crew of Crosby, Neal, Malkin, Staal, Dupuis, and Staal, with Cooke and Kennedy supporting.

  34. stuart66 says:

    Clint,

    Who is the second Staal?
    Stuart

  35. Kevin says:

    Stuart –

    Couldn’t agree more on your points about MAF playing in WAY TOO MANY games. And I think they got into trouble early in the season with that situation because by the time they had to make a push for first, there was no one else who could have played. I realize hindsight is 20/20, but…

    Adding to what others have already said, I do agree as well that the Pens sorely missed that veteran presence (e.g, Guerin) and they are in desparate need of another shut down defenseman (e.g., Hal Gill) to add to what Adams already does for them.

    Let’s start the push for Knuble – I’m all in, especially if it means trading Kennedy.

  36. stuart66 says:

    Kevin, I’d be all in too, but don’t think Knuble is realistically available. Kennedys signed to a pretty long-term (affordable?) contract also. I’m rooting for early development of Strait, Despres, and Morrow.
    Stuart

  37. Billy Keketsian says:

    @ hockeymonster

    Did you know that Garrison could have been a Pen, but Shero couldn’t promise him a roster spot because of all our supposed “depth”, and he chose Florida because he knew he’d be getting big minutes?

    Shero gets a lot of adulation, but it’s really easy to cover up your bad signings and NON-signings when you’ve got Crosby/Malkin/Letang/Staal.

  38. Milo Hamilton says:

    What is all this Knuble love ? 5 years ago. Maybe. Not realistically available ? He’ll be cut the day after the season’s over. He’s washed up. Stinks.

  39. Milo Hamilton says:

    And all this garbage about Fleury being tired. Pekka Rinne & Jonathan Quick both played more games this year. Guess what ? They’re both resting now, before they start the 2nd round.

  40. Kevin says:

    Yeah I know it would be virtually impossible to let Kennedy go, but this goes back to the offseason for me when they let Talbot go in order to keep Kennedy. As I and MANY others have said here – big mistake!

    Wouldn’t be dead set on Knuble, but a “Knuble-like” addition would be great.

  41. Kevin says:

    Milo –

    Ouch. Point well taken, sir.

  42. Bunch of fair weather fans... says:

    Fleury goes as his defense goes. He’s a solid goalie with exceptional athleticism but has too many soft spots to make up for shaky defense (especially glove side).

    Can we all stop avoiding a constantly nagging issue with Dan Bylsma?

    CONSISTENCY!

    Dan Bylsma is, in general, a very good coach. His system is outstanding which is why they have even made the playoffs after the last two injury-filled seasons. But COME ON, can we see the same forward lines more than two shifts in a row? 5-on-5, there was no need to put Malkin out there with anyone other than Neal and Kunitz. The same can be said for Staal, Cooke, and Kennedy.

    And Joe Morrow, defenseman 19, needs to be given a real chance to make the club next season. He’s going to be a good player.

  43. hockeymonster says:

    @Billy Keketsian

    No didnt know that bout garrison. Kids a monster! So he was undrafted i guess. Wow just thought his name stood out on a fairly subpar ufa d-man list. He’s in for a huge pay raise. Hope pens are in position to make it happen for him. Overall seems like its on shero to work his magic in the trade market…cuz if he cant…oh boy…we’ll be in a world of hurt for atleast the next season or 2.

  44. Duke says:

    DK, I agree with what you say, but I also think there has been a steady decline in overall team defense. I think the forwards are also to blame and maybe even the style the team plays. I started to notice an overall lack of attention to team defense back in early March. Maybe it goes back further, not sure. I am not suggesting we go back to Michel Therrien, but I think overall there needs to be a better balance between defensive responsibility and offensive attack. Do you think that is on the coach for the system or do you think the system is ok and the players, for whatever reason were not following the system come playoff time?

  45. Dan1283 says:

    @Milo,

    I have to admit that I didn’t know Knuble was that old, but that’s the kind of guy I want. A guy in his mid-30′s who can play a top two line, come up with big goals and lead the locker room. Basically, if Chris Kunitz was a bigger leader and scored more in the playoffs. Other guys fitting that mold would be Danny Briere, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Pominville, Jarome Iginla….you get the picture. Thanks for filling me in on Knuble, fellow Little.

    @Chris M,

    They have to play Martin for at least another season and hope he turns it around. I don’t care what his shortcomings are, the coaches should be able to hide them well enough that he isn’t a -3 every night. I wouldn’t send him to the minors because he’d still count against the cap, I believe. Michaelek didn’t seem to me to be blocking any more shots than his usual zero, but perhaps you saw something I didn’t. I swear I haven’t seen him go down and block one since Christmas.

    I think there are answers out there, and it’s up to Shero to find them. I still trust him 100%

  46. Dan1283 says:

    DK,

    Thanks for the update on the site layout. It looks incomplete so I’m anxious to see the finished product.

    Thanks for all your insight on the pucks this year. You proved to be right most of the time. I hope you get to contribute to a season wrap-up piece. I always anticipate finding out what the hidden problems may have been, who played through injuries, who is and isn’t happy….should be a really interesting offseason.

  47. Milo Hamilton says:

    @Dan

    It was on TK’s show that I first heard of the Knuble/Hunter feud. I checked his stats thinking he could be a good deadline pickup for us. That’s when I found out he’d fallen from the face of the earth. I’ve always liked him too, but I think it’s over for him. Watch him score the winner tomorrow ! But you’re right, they need someone like him in his prime.

  48. Dan1283 says:

    Milo,

    I’m a podcaster so I should be finding out about the Hunter/Knuble feud sometime in June. ;-)

  49. Nate says:

    How to get deeper into playoffs:
    - Pair Staal and Crosby
    - Adopt a structured, sometimes defensive, disciplined system that can succeed in the playoffs. Scoring isn’t the problem.

    - A more defensive system will help Martin and Michalek, who are more defensive defensemen anyways. They are not Letang.

    - Speaking of Letang, learn how to manage his emotions better. Same for Malkin. Malkin should not be paired with Neal long-term, those two need much more discipline.

    - It’s not that hard to turn this team back into Cup winners, Blysma might need to let go though if he can’t show Shero how he will adjust.

    - Finally, make Jeffrey, Vitale, Tangradi, Depres, Strait… a solid part of the team. Young, talented, cheap labor will perform better in the playoffs when they have actual NHL experience under their belt.

  50. Nailer says:

    I gotta believe that the Pens gave something up when they turned the page on “statement” toughness.

    Seems to me that after being gooned by the Isles, compounded by Sid’s concussion and the Cooke suspension, ownership rightly said “we’re better than the garage league.” After being among the leaders in fighting majors last season, this season saw a precipitous drop. Now, fighting ultimately doesnt equate to toughness… But just think how much ice– and peace — can be acquired when you can confidently dispatch tough guys to get after the “weasels” in the league. Could the Pens have nipped the distracting chippiness in the bud with Phila back in October? Reinvested a few times through the season? Def at CEC? ABSOLUTELY in front of those classy Phil Phans? Not to say every game has to contain a melee, but if Engelland or Asham have the green light to account for Hartnell or Pixie or Schenn’s goading two or three times before these playoffs, would their thrashings plant a seed that taking a liberty with Sid or Geno or MAF could spell due recompense? Wouldnt that free the Pens core to go about their business passing, scoring, stopping goals and waste less time returning the chippiness or going to the sin bin for standing up for themselves? Losing discipline.

    Believe me, I’m not talking about Godard or McIntyre dancing with Jody Shelley. And granted, it sounds like these chippy Fliers wouldnt drop the gloves. But hammer one them in kind and cleanly, then thrash those who’d inevitably come pick a fight over a clean Vitale-like hit.

    So there may be some personnel moves in order, sure. Strategies reexamined. But I can’t help but think that Penguin heart comes back to life with a reinvestment in taking no lip from the weasels.

  51. Ed says:

    I agree very much with this article. However I also agree with many comments posted.

    I just don’t understand why coach Bylsma mixed up lines that were producing in the late regular season during the first round. You could easily see that the timing was way off during the games, mishandled passes, no one cutting to the front of the net, playing the pass game during the powerplay and a horrid PK. Many of these things were working well during the end of the regular season with the occasional hiccup. Why it was changed so drastically for the first round eludes me.

    Martin – needs to go. Unload him on any team that he agrees to, that will take him. I don’t care if all we get a very high round draft pick for him, get him out of here. Useless.

    Michalek and Lovejoy – need to go away also. Not even near the playmaking or production we need from them.

    Richard Park – Gotta go. Sorry, you had your five minutes of fame. Next?

    Brent Johnson – Don’t even negotiate, just go. You’re old. Bye.

    Rebuild from there. I am sure that is some cap space that can be worked with.

  52. Vette60 says:

    Hi All.

    Checking in from Richmond, VA.

    Count me in as a very confused fan…not just the early demise to my beloved Pens, but also on how to find the Blog…anyway…here’s my $.02.

    I had the pleasure of donating blood yesterday after church and had the the game going on the DVR back at home. Well, happens that the blood “tech” was a Flyers fan and blurted out the score after Giroux scored early on and then again in the first…darn smart phone technology. So, dulled my pain a bit…maybe being down a bit on the red cells…

    Anyway. What’s this team’s issue? There are probably a few…but…to keep it in perspective a bit…

    1) What about being a Canucks fan? You think we got problems? There you have a goalie that is signed for another 10 years and didn’t even start the final games of the series…geez. Bounced in the first round after making a run to game 7 in the SCF last year…

    2) What about being a Wings fan? You think we got problems? Another early exit for the Wings and you have your Captain being over 40 along with their big “net front” guy along with Datsyuk who is often injured….what do they do?

    3) Still in it, but how about being a Bruins fan? Pushed to 7 games with a Washington team that sleepwalked through the regular season, your Conn Smythe winning goalie gives up a horrible goal at the end of Game 5, win in OT in game 6 to force a game 7 at home. What happens if they pack it in?

    4) Wow, what about being a Rangers fan? Winning tonight to force game 7, but pushed to the brink as the wire-to-wire East leader by a young, upstart Sens team that is “just happy to be there”…what if they go out?

    5) Geez, what about those Blackhawks? Down to the ‘Yotes 3 games to 2 and possibly looking at a first round exit, again, for the 2nd straight year after winning the Cup. What happens in the Windy City if they head out in the first round? Tied at nil at the start of the 2nd…

    I hope I made a point here.

    Here are my thoughts on the Pens.

    1) Regular season ended on a sour note with the losses to the Isles and a general decline in play. I know there has been talk here of a run and gun style with 87′s return, but they just didn’t seem as detail oriented as they had been. Woudn’t call it run and gun…maybe a lack of focus on the little things and a “we’ll make up on it in skill”

    2) Really tough match-up with the Flyers in the first round. They can really push buttons and then come across as the “what me?” types. ie Hartnell.

    3) Game 1 collapse really set the tone and lead to the game 3 debacle.

    4) That left no margin for error and a game like yesterday really mattered.

    5) D really needs an update and I agree the signing’s of Martin and Z haven’t been the best. What’ goofy about that is I really thought they were pretty good last year and not bad to have…what changed? I’d keep Z and see what we can do with 7.

    6) There really isn’t that veteran on the team making that final run (ie Bill G). I don’t know what you can do about that – do you need to find that guy each year? Maybe Max was really a guy they should have kept over TK? Don’t know. Max ran into injury issues the last two years, but, from what I can tell, looked pretty good this year.

    7) What on eath happened to the PK? Geez – really good, agressive all year and then seem to wave sticks around and “wait” for things to happen. Cooke scored on a 3-on-5 this year and I didn’t see any of that same agression in this series.

    8) What’s up with MAF? I am completely on his side, but the stats this series were awful. Can’t get anywhere with that.

    8) This year was really in play for them to make a deep run and that’s really what burns me. West wasn’t really strong overall, East was doable as well. Take care of business in one of those Isles games at the end of the year and maybe we aren’t talking about this now.

    Enough rambling. Take it easy and I hope I can find the blog easier tomorrow!

    Randy in Richmond.

    DK: Appreciated on all counts, up and down the line, Randy.

    My understanding is that the new site will have a portal to the blog sometime soon. I don’t know anything beyond that.

  53. Okel Dokel says:

    A little late to the parade.

    Overall, I agree with your assessment DK. A few months ago I would not have been as willing to call the signing of M & M a “colossal bust” but it is clear Martin, at least, no longer fits this system. He did last year when it had a much more defensive posture, but not this year where he was forced to react under pressure. He just wilted at times.

    Michalek I would be willing to give a chance, but I think Disco would have to change his system just a bit. Z is a “stay-at-home” defenseman IMO and is not comfortable with carrying the puck or sprawling out to block a shot. He looks awkward down there on all fours trying to block a shot.

    Hopefully they can move both, but if they cannot then the onus is on Dan to modify his system some what. One thing I feel he needs to do is use his entire bench more effectively. He relies too heavily on four defenseman and they start getting gassed down the stretch. Additionally, he needs to enforce shorter shifts so the energy level stays high throughout the game. You need that energy to work the cycle.

    Laviolette did a great job of putting his guys out at the right time and for the right amount of time. Giroux played as much as Crosby and Malkin but played more shifts.It pains me to say this but the Flyers were the better team. They wanted it more. They played with more desperation and seemed more willing to stick with their plan of attack.

    It will be an interesting off season with the CBA and all. Hopefully, the Pens can come back next fall with a younger, tougher and faster defense.

  54. Kevin says:

    Dejan—I enjoyed your article on the “core” today. I would however question whether those who are calling for a Malkin trade have “lost their minds”. Certainly there are a lot of knee jerk reactions out there right now. But isn’t there at the very least merit to the idea that the Pens need a major shakeup to their roster? Clearly 3 years running without getting past the 2nd round supports this. Two options, perhaps among others, to accomplish this would be to trade Malkin or trade Staal. I don’t think the answer as to which, if either, to trade is crystal clear. Malkin’s trade value will never be higher. Staal could be signed long term at a significantly cheaper cost, and it is reasonable to think that Staal has not reached his peak and could produce even more as a consistent 2nd line center. Trading Malkin could fetch the farm right now. If they could significantly improve the depth of their roster by trading Malkin, lock in Staal to a long term deal and actually save some salary cap room by doing so…why would this be such a ridiculous direction to at least consider? Of course, this is all predicated on having a healthy #87—if he came though this physical series in good health (at least in regards to his noggin), I would think the organization feels very good about his long term prospects.

 
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