Ten game winning streak snapped and the Pens haven’t been the same since. Through all the normal ebs and flows of the season, one thing that the Pens have done right is find a way to recoup and win. The past two weeks have left the Pens with a nasty 2-4 on their report card to teams that there is no reason that they should not beat. A blow out loss to the Senators, two awful losses to the Islanders and now the debacle that was the Flyers game yesterday.
So what changed?
Quite a few things. I gave some stats regarding Sidney Crosby and line mates in a blog a few days ago (here) and then laid out the importance of Kris Letang (here) when it comes to the Pens success. Head Coach Dan Bylsma is certainly worthy of the Jack Adams Trophy he won last season and the Stanley Cup ring on his finger, but what is with his new found love of shaking things up that frankly need to remain static?
The top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal vanished for a game, only to return the next game when it clearly didn’t work. This line is golden. LEAVE IT ALONE. And he has. Crosby has been rotating through linemates, even though the Matt Cooke-Crosby-Tyler Kennedy was producing points at an extremely rapid rate. In the last five games, Cooke and TK have been held to 2 points each. Crosby has 8 points in that time, but Crosby’s caliber for earning points is far higher than that of the other two players.
While Bylsma has been line rolling and making adjustments throughout the game’s natural progression night to night, the strategy of keeping our biggest guns on three separate lines, with Richard Park and Vitale able to handle the fourth line on any given night, was a gem of an idea and it produced big time. As I stated when Sid returned, if you spread out that talent, having 3 centers who are first line capable down the middle, you control the other team’s lines for the night because they must adjust to compensate for their opponent’s talent.
Kennedy is suffering without Sid on his wing, as he finally started to produce. Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis and Steve Sullivan during the win streak were producing more points collectively than the Geno line.
Reinstate these lines:
These lines all worked. They were all scoring.
Another issue is this new found love of a 5 forward power play that Bylsma is bent on. What was wrong with rolling two PP units? Make sure that your best defensive forward is out there! Put the first liners out, bring in Sid, Staalsy and Cookie for the second unit and keep Sullivan and Kris Letang out there for 2 minutes. Bylsma has indicated that Letang will be incorporated into the PP in the playoffs, but he is sticking with this 5 forward PP for now. Letang is instrumental in our power play. He can log 2 minutes ice time without batting an eye, can apparently be everywhere at once, why is he not out there? And when the opposing team grabs the puck on a turn over and rushes up ice, who is there to help Fleury/Johnson? No one. *Resisting the urge to pull out my hair*
The next problem is everyone flashing around their fancy puck handling and manuevering skills instead of shooting on a wide open net. So much fancy passing that isn’t working and putzing around like it’s the ice capades going on that the Pens are missing text book chances to score. Stick to the basics!
The next thing is discipline. Earlier in the season, Geno was responding to frustration with hat tricks. Now, he is back to responding with stupid penalties and the opposition is responding with power play goals. The Flyers have the Pens number here. They know exactly what buttons to push and look at the last two games… they pushed all the right buttons, bad officiating and gooniness aside. Don’t play into their hands. They’ve been doing it all season. The Isles do the same thing. They get in the Pens heads and they stay there for the whole game.
Yesterday after the game, Scott Hartnell said that the Flyers have confidence playing at Consol Energy Center that they didn’t have playing across the street at Mellon (Civic) Arena. That building was dark and dingy and the fans were relentless. Now, CEC is brightly lit, the fans are noticably less rowdy and for heavens sake, we still have fans standing up cheering for Max Talbot.
News flash folks: Talbot doesn’t play here anymore. Who wouldn’t want to come play in a city where the home team fans CHEER for guys on YOUR team? Not so intimidating. Game 7 of 2009 is over. Get over it. Talbot isn’t a Penguin anymore. Put your Talbo jersey away when he is in the building. Save it for another game.
Marc-Andre Fleury needs to get his head right. He has been careless since the Pens lost the game in Philadelphia on March 22nd. Fleury is known to take losses to heart and it plagues him. Play Brent Johnson again tomorrow against Boston and give Fleury a few more days to regroup before we play the Rangers on Thursday and the Flyers again on Saturday.
The playoffs begin in a week and a half. Get ready. Stop with the cute fun and games. This is not the time to experiment when you have proven methods that get you tallies in the W column.
And for the love of God, someone get Tyler Kennedy to target practice. The glass behind the net will thank you for it.