Gameday Conference Finals #4: @ Boston Bruins

Because if you don't what is there?

Because if you don’t what is there?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Boston Bruins

TD Garden, 8:00 PM, NBC Sports, 105.9 the X

This could be our last gameday post of the season. This could be the Penguins’ last game of the season. Or the Penguins can win one game, and earn an opportunity to come home and play in front of the home crowd once more. We can’t tell you which will happen. All we know is that the Penguins are going to go out and play one more game against the Boston Bruins.

We can tell you, based on the morning skate, that it looks like Tyler Kennedy will be back in the Penguins lineup and Joe Vitale, mostly due to his completely undisciplined penalty in the first period of Wednesday’s game, will be out of the lineup. Paul Martin did not participate in the morning skate but we doubt he’s out for the game. Mark Eaton skated with Kris Letang during the rushes, don’t know if that means he’s playing, but the Penguins might as well try something. I can’t wait til the next person asks who the goaltender will be.

There’s no safety net now. One loss and a large percentage of this team will never wear the Penguins sweater again. One loss and the team will have to listen to another year of gloating media types talk about how they couldn’t live up to the hype, to talk about how they don’t assign the Stanley Cup winner based on paper (when they were the ones who did it in the first place), to speculation on who could be traded, who should be traded, and who should simply have their employment terminated by the Penguins. One loss tonight and the fans final home memory of this team is booing them off the ice following a 6-1 embarrassment. One loss and we’re going to be bored stiff watching two teams we don’t like play for the Stanley Cup.

And that’s where we are now. One win gives the Penguins one more game. That’s all we are prepared to say at this time.

Never has this statement been more true: the race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.

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The Problem with Shooting: The Penguins v. Tuukka Rask

In two out of three games (excluding Game 2 which just doesn’t count for anything) so far this series it at least SEEMS like Tuukka Rask has done what we who closely follow the Penguins were truly and accurately beginning to think was impossible to do: stop the Penguins from scoring. And after only giving up 2 goals on 110 shots against, it seems fruitless to argue otherwise.

Rask boasts a .982 save percentage in three games this series

Rask boasts a .982 save percentage in three games this series

Which is why if you ask me if Rask has stopped the Penguins from scoring I would answer you with a resounding “Hell no.” For as great as Game 3 was and as much better the Penguins played in Game 3, and even during stretches of Game 1, they currently trail this series 3-0 because they’ve forgotten how to shoot. Despite the 2 goals on 110 shots in this series the Penguins still hold a commanding lead in shooting percentage this postseason. As a complete team they are scoring on 10.6% of their shots (49 goals on 462 shots). That’s way better than the Bruins who have managed only an 8.78% rate. The Penguins also led the regular season in shooting percentage, clicking at more than 11.26%. For more on the Penguins making evaluations based on shooting success, check out this post from Cam Charron from The Score.

Using the numbers in front of us, the Penguins (and the Bruins as they prepare for the Penguins) should expect to get AT LEAST 3 goals for every 30 shots they take that make it on the net. Given their 8.78% shooting rate, the Bruins would need to expect to outshoot the Penguins by AT LEAST 4 shots, just to keep pace and hope for a tie. To earn a fourth goal, the Bruins should reasonably expect to get at least 45 shots on goal. That’s no easy task.

Now I’m sure if this post were to circulate amongst some advanced statisticians they would laugh at me and say that everything I wrote is exactly why you cannot rely on shooting percentage as an accurate measurement of team performance. They’ll tell you shooting percentage is simply “luck” and that the only accurate predictor of scoring is shots on goal, that if you outshoot your opponent you should outscore your opponent.

But if you’ve watched this series you would realize that doesn’t always hold true. Just taking any old shot does not guarantee a goal any better than anything else. The Pens have gotten a lot of shots on net, so far 11 more than the Bruins, yet they’ve been outscored 11-2. And you cannot tell me that it has been Tuukka Rask, with his 30 foot rebounds that has kept all those shots out of the net. The issue is that the Penguins have not been shooting for accuracy. How many shots have you seen the Penguins take, after great puck movement plays, that have landed square on the “B” on Rask’s jersey? That’s not accurate shooting. And when the Penguins have tried to fine tune their shots nearly every single one of them has clanged off the post. Whether it’s the right thing to do or not, the Penguins were built to be a great shooting team. It seems like in their 8 day layoff between the Conference Semis and the Conference Finals, the Penguins forgot to keep fine-tuning their shots. As such, they look downright surprising in their own zone.

Again, we aren’t indicting anyone in particular in this, but the Pens are built to shoot well, if they aren’t going to do it, they are going to have problems in the offensive zone. Surely, impressive team defense and quick lateral movements from Rask (something the Pens never see, except when they take practice against Marc-Andre Fleury) have helped to keep pucks out of the net, but even if the Pens aren’t being their own worst enemy in the defensive and neutral zones now, they still simply haven’t gotten back to “Penguins hockey” in the offensive zone, no matter what they’re zone time, shots, and passing have looked like in this series (which has very often been bad, but that’s a story for another time).

If the Penguins want to win a game in this series they either need to find their scoring touch or do everything to make Rask pay for his god-awful rebound control. So far neither have happened.


Gameday Eastern Conference Finals #3: @ Boston Bruins

penguinsvsbruins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Boston Bruins

TD Garden, 8:00 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

Nothing for us to say here. The Penguins are either going to do what they need to to make this series or they won’t. There isn’t a single thing any professional media member or amateur hack like myself can say that will actually change what happens tonight. With that said, all we can do is comment on the decisions that the Penguins have made, will make, or at the very least should make.

Tomas Vokoun will be the Penguins’ starting goaltender tonight. And tonight is the only sure thing about Tomas Vokoun starting in a Penguins uniform. We’re not here to debate Marc-Andre Fleury’s future with the Penguins, right now we believe that this team needs to win one game, and Tomas Vokoun gives the Penguins the best chance to do that. If MAF were really back on his game he wouldn’t have given up the back-breaking and easily avoidable 4th goal with 8 seconds left in the period just as his team seemed on the verge of clawing back to consciousness. If Vokoun had done anything to relinquish the starter’s job we might be a little upset about things, but this is how the two still stack up despite Vokoun’s 6 goals in 4 periods this series:

g3ecfgoalies

I’ve been fond of this expression, at least when Vokoun let in goals it was because of a horrible team effort, unfortunately when MAF let in goals it was a result of bad goaltending.

The Penguins ought to make some lineup changes as well. Bylsma pretty much alluded to the fact that he wanted to explore what changes were possible, but nobody has a confident feeling as to what those changes will be.

This will sound annoying and very bandwagon-ish but our vote goes to Simon Despres and Beau Bennett. With Chris Kunitz and Brenden Morrow (among others) clearly playing at a low level due to injuries it seems foolish to not play Bennett. He has an uncapped potential and would easily be better than those guys playing at 60% or less. Despres makes sense for reasons we’ve expressed before, and just because Matt Niskanen needs a day off. He’s rapidly plunged down my personal preference list and if not for Kris Letang trying to out-suck him there would be a lot more burning eyes on his game. At a certain point you have to take a risk to find a spark. If the opportunity cost is Niskanen for a possible future Norris Trophy-potential type defensemen that sounds like a good deal to me.

If you haven’t heard a million times already, there is a very good precedent for a team coming back from 0-2 in the final round before the Cup. In 1991 the Penguins overcame an 0-2 deficit against the Boston Bruins enroute to their first Stanley Cup. And the most recent team to overcome an 0-2 deficit on their way to winning the Stanley Cup was the 2009 edition Pittsburgh Penguins (in fact they did it twice in both the ECSF and the SCF).

For a crystal clear explanation of why the Penguins have struggled so bad check out this monster telestrator from Jesse Marshall.

For a frustrating piece on how the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to take the Bruins to 7 games in the Conference Quarterfinals check out this solid piece from Rick at the Pensblog.

All we can say about those factoids is this:

BRUINSKILLING-JUSTINDOY

Stop the stupid. Save sanity. The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.


Gameday Eastern Conference Finals #2: v. Boston Bruins

penguinsvsbruins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Boston Bruins

Consol Energy Center, 8:00 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

This is the first time all postseason the Penguins have actually been behind in a series. The Bruins came to town Saturday and played the perfect road game. The Bruins played with grit, determination, and they capitalized on chances, whether those chances were earned or not. With that said, there isn’t much to be too disappointed about in the way the Penguins played. They dominated the offensive zone for a majority of the game. They generated impressive chances, more or less controlled the neutral zone, and even maintained a pretty impressive physical edge against the “Big, Bad, Bruins.” But Tuukka Rask refused to allow himself to be beat and a few defensive zone lapses by the Penguins made the final score something of an anomaly compared to what we all watched.

But here are a couple of things to consider:

  • The last time a goaltender decided to not allow himself to get beat, and still got hung out to dry so badly by his defense was Craig Anderson in Game 3 of the Senators series. The Penguins went on to put up 11 goals in the next two games against him.
  • The greatest thing we can hope for is that the Bruins walked into their locker room after Saturday’s game and said, yeah we were awesome, we won 3-0. You could tell that the Bruins were more or less pleased with their effort. But despite that, a few different bounces and better objectivity by the refs and the Pens could have won 5-3 or better. We’ll take that.

Nonetheless, the key to tonight’s game for the Penguins will be focus. I had no problem with Geno’s fight: think about it this way. He took with him Patrice Bergeron, the best 2 way center in the NHL, sure the Pens had a power play to protect after the fight, but on that power play the Penguins replaced Geno with future first-ballot hall of famer Jarome Iginla, the Bruins didn’t have anyone comparable with which to replace Bergeron. I would call that a tradeoff worth taking for the Penguins.

But there was unneeded chippyness. And it seemed like after the halfway point of the game the Penguins just didn’t have the same awareness, the same will to win the game. They started doing things they didn’t need to do. They tried to prove their toughness when they should have been trying to win a 1-0 hockey game. If they can get back to business tonight, I don’t reckon there is anything to fear.

Looking at the morning skate lines I wouldn’t expect any lineup changes today. And if you actually thought there was going to be a goalie controversy for tonight’s game, you’re wrong. Tomas Vokoun played well in Game 1 and there is no reason to think he’ll do anything different tonight. We’ve said it all along, if the team in front of him gives Voki a chance, he’ll hold up his end. On Saturday he held up his end, it was the occasional weak play of his forwards and defensemen in the defensive zone that led to problems.

Right the ship. Go Pens.


The Matt Cooke Hit, NHL Officiating, and The Time is Right

When Matt Cooke first hit Adam McQuaid in Game 1 my immediate reaction was that McQuaid saw the hit coming, turned into it, and then exaggerated the impact in typical Bruins diving fashion. In hindsight, although it’s irrefutable that McQuaid did put himself in a vulnerable position, I do believe that the 5 minute major was the right call, if not the game misconduct.

mcquaid-cooke

Unfortunately, when the officials had the opportunity to effectively legislate the way this series would be played, they screwed it up.

When Brad Marchand hit James Neal, just as squarely in the back, with a longer run up to the contact, and without the benefit of Neal having ever seen Marchand it seemed easy for the officials to “settle the score” and give a five and a game to Marchand as well. And they didn’t. They proved just how subjective their sensibilities are and only assessed Marchand with a 2 minute minor. If you want to look at the turning point of this game, look no further. The NBC analysts and local talking heads have persisted in the last couple of days with the notion that the BRUINS frustrated the Penguins. The Bruins did not. The officials did. It just so happened that as a smart team the Bruins were then able to jump on the simmering aggression of the Penguins and exploit it.

The old adage from referees in the NHL is that come playoff time the best thing is to “let them play.” That the refs don’t want to skew the results of a game because they assessed more penalties to one team than the other. But that’s just stupid. Typically penalties are the result of dumb, slow, undisciplined, or unskilled play by the offending team. As such that means that if you don’t call the penalties as they occur then you are actually helping the offending team by overlooking their inequalities. If two teams are evenly matched they should end up committing and drawing essentially the same number of penalties without any “help” from the referees. But as long as they continue to force their way into the game, things are almost disgusting. Meesh had a post on this awhile ago and it would be great to see what could have happened if others had taken up the charge to continue reporting on ref stupidity.

It doesn’t look like the Penguins are planning any lineup changes for tonight’s game but our thought after Game 1 was that this could be a great series for Simon Despres. There’s no doubt that Mark Eaton and Kris Letang looked a little vulnerable in Game 1, they each were responsible for a goal that the Bruins did not deserve to score and they just seemed a little out of sorts. Adding Despres is a proven technique to convince Letang to slow down and simplify his game. Adding Despres will also cut down Boston’s forecheck ability. The best way to counter the Bruins is to pass the puck out of the zone before they have an opportunity to get into their cycle. Simon Despres is going to be a lot better at that than Mark Eaton. This seems like a pretty easy trade to make. Despres isn’t going to be a downgrade in the hitting department either and that seems like a necessity against this Bruins team.

You have to play the best players, especially against Boston

You have to play the best players, especially against Boston

And you thought I was going to talk about Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t you?


Gameday Eastern Conference Finals #1: v. Boston Bruins

penguinsvsbruins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Boston Bruins

Consol Energy Center, 8:00 PM, NBC, 105.9 the X

For a few hours short of a full 7 day week the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins have known they would be facing each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. What they, and all of us fans, didn’t know, is when that series would begin. And now we finally have our answer. The long wait is over and the Penguins and Bruins finally have the opportunity to answer the unending stream of questions posed by the Talking Heads in both cities and abroad.

There’s no question that the break has probably been most beneficial to the Penguins. With half the team or more playing through nagging injuries including 2/3 of the top 6 forwards (Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin, and Neal) as well as others like Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and most of the defense this has been a time to get healthy. And in that time this veteran team, so different in makeup from 2 months ago, has had the opportunity to gel and convalesce. They’ve had the opportunity to watch so much game film they know exactly what to expect from the Bruins. And as Mike Colligan informs us, the Bruins do what they do and they’re unlikely to change. This is an absolute MUST READ piece so I’m going to give you a couple minutes to do that before we continue on. In short form, the Bruins hope to overcome the Penguins’ speed and skill solely on the strength of their smarts. With so much time off the Penguins really have the ability to match that level of smart hockey.

And that has to start with the goaltender on out. With the week off a lot of people, especially in the national media, have tried to learn more about Tomas Vokoun, whether they SHOULD have done it sometime in the previous 16 years is not for us to debate. What deserves saying though is that in many ways this guy has become THE story of the playoffs. With that kind of expectation though, he will also need to keep playing at a high level, and he tends to do his best when he’s playing smart. Quick thinking will also have to be the MO for the defense in this round. Yes Kris Letang emerged as something of a game breaker in the Senators series but he’ll need to cut out more of his mind-bogglingly bad turnovers in this series, because if he doesn’t the Bruins will do what the Senators were unable to do so often, score. And then there’s the offense: a strong, quick-moving forecheck is absolutely the key to this series for the Pens. The Bruins are a little thin in terms of who they can send out to cover Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis AND Iginla-Malkin-Neal constantly skating around in their own zone will likely break this team given enough time.

As per everyone who saw the morning skate the forwards will remain the same as they were at the end of the Senators series:

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis

Iginla-Malkin-Neal

Cooke-Sutter-Kennedy

Morrow-Jokinen-Adams

For all the seemingly dozens of people I follow on Twitter who saw the morning skate nobody mentioned what the defensive pairings seemed to be. I can tell you that Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin will both be in the lineup, playing together, Matt Niskanen and Douglas Murray will both be playing today as a pairing and Kris Letang will definitely be in the lineup with either Deryk Engelland or Mark Eaton as his partner. As with Ottawa, this seems like a perfect series to play Eaton, he’ll be safe and responsible and he won’t have any skating issues against the big slow Bruins.

The Penguins have 8 wins, they need 8 more to win the Stanley Cup. It’s time to go get number 9 tonight.

Don’t stupid. The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.


Go Go Black and Gold: Forwards

Before we get to the discussion of the forwards we will talk about the hockey operators: the coaches, the GMs, and the owners for each team.

Coaching: There’s no question he’s still coaching with a short leash, and there’s no question that he will get railed on the split second he makes another bad decision like the end of Game 3, but I’m really happy with HCDB’s work so far this playoffs. He’s identified issues and fixed them. He made the ballsy move to go with Vokoun even though so many armchair coaches thought it would end his run, and now he’s back in the Conference Finals. On the flip side there’s Claude Julien. There’s no question he’s a good coach. This is his third trip to the ECF in four years and he’s only two years removed from winning the Cup. He has a system, his players believe in it, and it works. Unfortunately he also does things like this:

Advantage Penguins.

GM: Peter Chiarelli became, as far as I’m concerned, the first GM in any professional sport to call a press conference about not acquiring a player in the wake of the Jarome Iginla situation. He’s a joke. But he has assembled a really good team. On the other hand is Ray Shero. He makes all the trades that NHL ’13 makes fun of you for, and he does it in real life.

Advantage Penguins.

Ownership: Jeremy Jacobs is the Bruins owner and he’s in charge of the NHL Board of Governors. He’s the man who presided over Gary Bettman’s rise to power and he was the first and foremost owner to authorize lockouts in both 2004 and 2012. The Penguins are owned by Mario Lemieux, surely he is one of the all-time greatest players in NHL history but he also spoke out against the lockout in 2004, and in 2012 along with co-owner Ron Burkle were part of the moderate group of owners who refused to allow the season to be cancelled.

As if this wasn’t obvious, Advantage Penguins.

The Forwards: The reason why these guys aren’t going to make the difference in the series is because they are both really good. Milan Lucic compared the Penguins to the Miami Heat for having a “dream team” aura to them. And they do, they have so much high end skill, so much grit, and so much depth you can’t help but look back in awe at what the Penguins do have.

But it’s also a lie to say that the Bruins are any different. David Krejci is leading the postseason in scoring and Nathan Horton sits in a tie for fifth, couple that with their other winger Lucic, who has been scoring heroic late game goals everywhere we look, and there’s not much left to debate. If anything some of the Bruins’ high end guys, notably Tyler Seguin and noted mercenary Jaromir Jagr, have been a little too quiet and could be due at some point this series.

In other words, both teams are likely going to get some chances, and when they do, they’ll probably score some goals. Whichever team seems more capable of limiting and or preventing chances (read plays better defense) will have the upper-hand.

I don’t really think there’s anything else we would need to say about that. Before we leave, a few good reads from other’s both previewing the series and criticizing the NHL, because it deserves it.

Jesse Marshall with a detailed look at stats, both mundane and advanced, for each team.

The Pensblog with a good look at the goaltending matchup.

Meesh chimes in with a great criticism, and reluctant acceptance of the 7 day layoff for the Penguins and their fans.

Once more from the well from J.Marsh, this time breaking down what the Bruins do on their PK.