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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Game 2: All Aboard for Uglytown -- Detroit wins 3-0

I took notes on Game 2.

In my head, not on paper, I'm not that much of a nerd - and since I write online, I'm clearly not a journalist nor a professional.

So you'll get this in stream of consciousness format - and it'll look about as ugly as the Penguins have all throughout this series.

Game 2 saw Pittsburgh start following yours truly's tips for victory, namely this little piece of information. Quoth me:

Pittsburgh's plan of attack here has to be to push, pressure and force the
issue. Make Detroit get back on their heels and defend, to throw the puck at the
net and keep control of it themselves. Sounds like I'm talking out of both sides
of my mouth here, I know, but Dallas and Nashville both saw their greatest
success against Detroit when they forced the issue. While Nashville's success
almost has to be given an asterisk since that came against current bench jockey
goaltender Dominik Hasek, the fact is they went after Detroit to score.

At about the 10 minute mark of the second period, the Penguins snapped out of the hypnotist-induced fog and started to forecheck aggressively and go after anyone in a Red Wings uniform. This was a positive thing. It's one of the few positive things you can take out of a game that saw the Penguins not score for the second straight Stanley Cup Finals game. It saw frustration already starting to bubble over from Penguins players, namely Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik and crotchety old man Gary Roberts, likely still ticked off about being a healthy scratch in Game 1.

Go ahead, just ask him about that, he'll expound at great length about it.

The fact that the end of the game saw things unfold the way it did shows that Pittsburgh's road to the Finals may have, in fact, been too cushy. Ottawa was a broken down and mentally challenged first round opponent. The New York Rangers were a scoring-handicapped team with one semi-rejuvinated superstar playing the wing and a key pain-in-the-ass out of the lineup. The Flyers were a more physical version of the Rangers sans an aging superstar. Pittsburgh faced little to no adversity along the way. None of those three teams offered any sort of offensive push nor any talent for passing or delivering the body.

Enter Detroit.

This also takes me back to something else I said in that now Kreskin-like Cup Preview piece I wrote. More from me:

If Pittsburgh does indeed decide to pile into their zone defensively and
rely on blocking shots and trying to stop Detroit at the blueline...they're
going to spend a lot of time waiting for Detroit to just give up the puck to
them on a dump in or turnover. This series won't last quite so long.

Pittsburgh is trying to play Detroit's game...except that Detroit is better at it than anyone.


Worse yet for Pittsburgh, most, if not all, of Detroit's power comes from their defensemen to set things up. No forecheck, no aggressive play = Detroit's defense getting to play quarterback behind the greatest offensive line ever assembled. They've had all day to wait things out, to regroup, to gather...to get the forwards cycling again through the neutral zone and forward to attack. Detroit hasn't really had to dump the puck in and chase it, not while the forwards are carving holes through the Pittsburgh defense and getting in behind those Penguins defensemen on the dump-ins.

Games 1 and 2 have certainly been a "Worst Case Scenario" for Pittsburgh. Worse yet, Penguins leadership refuses to accept this as fact.

Well, honestly, I truly believe the first game, our young team was
really nervous. We fell behind early in the game yesterday, and this is a
team that it’s tough to generate offense with the obstruction that they’re

But you know what, they’re doing it the right way. It’s like
there’s a dotted line. Sometimes they’ll cross it a little bit. And that
goes with experience. It’s tough to generate offense. And you need to score
dirty goals. The tic‑tac‑toe play, sometimes it’s going to happen. But most
of the time you’re going to put the puck at the net, and you’re going to
crash the net.

These quotes come from Penguins coach Michel Therrien - they're far subdued compared to how fired up he was immediately after Game 2:

It’s really tough to generate offense against that team. They’re good on
obstruction. It’s going to be tough to generate any type of offense, if the
rules remain the same. So it’s the first time we’re facing a team that the
obstruction is there, and we’re having a hard time skating to take away ice.

We took two penalties tonight on the goalie. We never take penalty to
the goalie in the playoff. I’ll tell you something, I reviewed those plays.
He’s a good actor. He goes to players, and he’s diving. Took away our power
play. Got to get focused. I know our players are frustrated right now. It’s
tough to play the game. But Osgood did the same thing against Dallas under

Frustration I understand. It's tough not to be frustrated with how badly Pittsburgh is being shut down by Detroit. The reasons for their failure in this series were not even mentioned at all by Therrien, however.

Nowhere did he accept blame for only playing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for 18 minutes a piece in Game 1. You know those two guys, right? The two best players on the ice for the Penguins whenever they set foot on it. You know....those guys. At no point does he offer up reasons for his team's failure to muster a shot on goal for the first 12 minutes of Game 2, nor does he talk about his team's inability to score on the power play.

Instead, we're treated to petulant excuses about how the Red Wings are playing hockey like that of the Devils in the 1990s (which they're not) and about how Chris Osgood's diving show is ruining the sport. It's silly, but the two times he's flopped have come either at the end of the game, like against Dallas or last night when Petr Sykora legitimately ran into him. These complaints do the job to fire up the fans in Pittsburgh and get the talking heads rambling about these supposed issues, however it does nothing to find answers for the problems the Penguins are having.

Osgood falling down on the ice with under a minute to play didn't decide the game one way or another. Detroit playing keep-away with the puck sure as hell frustrates Penguins players and fans alike but the only way to fix that is pressure the puck carriers like crazy. Tiring job? You bet it is - but if you want your name on the Stanley Cup in couple of weeks, you better believe you should do it.

Instead, Therrien is playing the "woe is me" card to the press and using the media to beg for more calls to be made against Detroit. I'm having a hard time coming up with the appropriate historical figure or fictional character to describe him. No, wait, I've got a good one...

It's not my fault! They told me they fixed it!

I'm not sure that I'd want to set the whining standard for my still very young superstars to take witness of.

All of this petulance from Therrien does no service to his guys on the ice. They're working hard, they're just being outworked and outplayed.

Referees aren't costing them the games, poor planning and adjustment making is.

That said, the goals stay the same for Pittsburgh - pressure the hell out of Detroit and get on the board first. The scoreless streak means nothing once the game starts. If Osgood starts coming up with miraculous saves, the psychological hold over the Penguins will be in full force. The coach and some of the players already think he's a diving creep and none of that stuff has had an effect on the game.

For those of you thinking Osgood flopped when Ryan Malone ran into him while on the Pittsburgh power play, good luck convincing anyone that Ryan Malone seemed to know anything at all of what he was doing in Game 2 - he was thoroughly abysmal and took three terrible minor penalties and the mix-up with Osgood was legitimate.

Instead of whining to the press, Michel Therrien would be better suited breaking out a bullwhip and a cattle prod in practice - these Penguins need a major league wake-up call to just stay in these games with Detroit.

Detroit, on the other hand, if you're going to pick on something they're not doing well the power play is it. They're 1-out-of-14 on the power play and while they've had some solid efforts, they've only got one goal to show for it.

Improved defensive play and smoothness from Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja (filling in for a wonky-kneed Chris Chelios) are tall orders, but would help Detroit to become a thorough and flawless 20-man wrecking crew - but asking for those things in Detroit is pure greed at this point.

A Detroit win in Game 3 and it becomes a question of whether Pittsburgh wins one for pride in Game 4 or plummets into the tank completely. A Pittsburgh win will again tweak the resolve of Detroit and instill some confidence into a team that is in clear psychological disarray.

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