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Why the Penguins won’t win the Stanley Cup

I’m watching the Penguins-Sabres game on Versus HD.  Going into the 3rd period, it is tied 3-3.  I have no idea who will win the game (if the Pens were down by 2, I’d say they win, if they were up by 2, I’d say they lose, since it is tied, it’s a tossup), but watching the game reminds me not only why they are one of the most entertaining teams to watch (are they winning?  Don’t worry, they’ll give it back.  Are they down by a couple with four minutes left?  Don’t blink, they are now up by one), but why they won’t win the Stanley Cup.

I was surprised they didn’t get swept by the Red Wings in the finals last year.  They really had no business winning a single game, much less two (but we’ll always have that 3 OT thriller), because of a couple of fundamental flaws, which you wouldn’t necessarily think are flaws on the surface.

Anyway, so in this game, every single goal the Sabres have scored so far has been due to a giveaway by the Pens when they had full control of the puck.  That obviously isn’t a good thing, but that’s not the real problem.

The real problem comes from how the Pens scored their 3 goals.  All three efforts were beautiful tic-tac-toe type plays, brilliant pass (or passes) leading to a near empty net for the goal.  Exciting to watch, and the skill level is evident (Malkin with the first two assists, Crosby on the third).

During the telecast, the announcers mentioned that the Pens are almost always out-scored, that they are second to last in the conference in shots on goal, and found it surprising.  No, it isn’t.  Because the team has Malkin and Crosby, and because they make such brilliant plays, the team expects all goals to be like that, and so they don’t shoot the damn puck enough.  Why shoot it on net, when you can try to pass it through three people in a highlight reel goal?

The scary thing, of course, is that Crosby in particular can do this.  He can pass it so that it flies over the first defenseman’s stick, then under the second’s, right onto a teammate’s stick who taps it into the net.  Recently, Crosby has tried a new tactic and the scary thing is it works.  He shoots a slapshot, but not at the goalie.  No, that would be easy.  Instead, he shoots it *at a teammate’s stick* so that it banks in off of it.  He’s done it off of Sykora and Staal the last week.  And it isn’t a fluke, he’s doing it on purpose.  Their sticks break, but it’s damn impressive.

We’ve seen this before.  The early 90s championship teams had Lemieux and Jagr (just as importantly, Ron Francis).  They won two Cups, and should have won more.  The team going for the three-peat is widely regarded as the most talented.  But they lost in the playoffs in 7 games to a vastly inferior Islanders team because they kept trying to make the prettiest goal possible, while the Isles just shot the damn thing.

I suppose this year has shown a progression of sorts.  Crosby and Malkin have both scored amazing goals when they try to go one against four or five, and used to insist on trying it once a game.  They tried it continually in the finals against the Red Wings, an older and more experienced team that just shrugged the young punks aside.  The first part of this year, Crosby and Malkin were at it again, trying for the one on four highlight reel goal at least once a game.  Now, at least they are trying to bring their teammates into the action.

But please, guys, sometimes it pays to just shoot the damn thing.  Why do you think Max Talbot is on the team?

Update: The Pens lost 4-3.

Another update: from the ESPN recap -

"The power play is not good," (Coach) Therrien said. "We are trying to be too cute."

The Penguins enjoyed 3:35 of two-man advantage time during the game over three stretches, including a full two minutes midway through the second that could have given them a 4-2 lead.

"They didn't put too many pucks on the net; they tried to be a little too cute and go for an empty net," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. "They had a couple chances but we did a good job with some big kills, especially the second five-on-three."

posted on Monday, December 08, 2008 8:27 PM Print
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