First off, no matter what else happens this seasons, Cub fans can at least take some solace in the knowledge that the Cubs handed the Cardinals their first series loss this season.
Anyway, in atypical fashion, I haven't really been in front of a computer the past couple days, so I haven't gotten a post up. I thought about writing a post talking about the Blackhawks and how there is no justice in a world where they don't win that last playoff game. When I finally did get in front of a computer in the evening yesterday, those plans were delayed.
There are some times as a writer, whether you are writing creatively or reporting, that you just have to buck up and admit that you are not the best source or the right voice for a particular story. And that's okay. But, when it comes to situations like that, I feel it is the duty of that writer to go out and find a better fit for that story. The Penguins playoff story is one of those stories for me. To do it justice, I went out and found an honest-to-goodness Penguins fan in my brother, Drew, who was kind enough to write this up for me.
The Penguins heroic comeback efforts came to a halt Sunday afternoon. It is also tough facing an in-state rival, especially in the playoffs. The Flyers-Penguins series brought the expected tenacity and physicality, to say the least. It is true that a lot of the physical play was carry over from the last game of the regular season, which ended with the opposing coaches standing on benches shouting what I assumed were words of endearment to one another.
Given the history, it should not be forgotten that there was real hockey played in the midst of all the fighting majors, game misconducts, suspensions, and fines, and the Flyers played a bit better hockey than the Penguins throughout the series. The two blaring problems for the Penguins were the penalty kill and goaltending.
It seemed, in this series, that no matter who was on the power play, there was a guaranteed goal. This isn’t really a surprise when you consider that both teams finished the season tied for fifth with a 19.6% success rate on the power play. However, what was surprising was the Penguins inability to kill penalties. Although both teams possess plenty of fire power on virtually all lines, the Penguins were brilliant on the penalty kill all year long, until it really mattered. The Flyers broke a playoff record scoring 12 power play goals against the third ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Once the Penguins began struggling on the penalty kill, it became a psychological issue. This is a recipe for disaster when both teams were throwing discipline to the wayside.
With the Penguins struggling so much on the penalty kill, this leaves a lot of responsibility on the goaltender. The Flower just wasn't good enough this series. The Penguins could play a spectacular first 20 minutes, but unfortunately hockey is a 60 minute affair. The entire Penguins bandwagon was mobilized by a leaky tire (or at least a shaky goalie). As soon as the Penguins would get an inflated lead of two or three goals, Fleury would give up 5 or 6 unanswered. In Game 1, the Penguins jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Fleury proceeded to give up four goals on the last 20 shots he faced. Much of the same for the Flower in Game 2, as Fleury gave up seven goals on 30 shots. Fleury was finally pulled after giving up six goals against 28 shots after two periods of Game 3. Even in the Game 4 win, Fleury got off to a horrendous start. He gave up three goals against his first 11 shots faced. Thankfully the Penguins power play dominated the scoring for this game. And just when I thought Fleury had it together, making some dazzling third period saves to secure a 3-2 win in Game 5, Fleury reverted back to his earlier ways for Game 6. Fleury allowed four goals on 22 shots. This type of goaltending will not win you hockey games, especially not playoff hockey games.
With all of that being said, Fleury wasn’t the only one not to perform in the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin was not the 50-goal scorer, Art Ross winner, and MVP candidate that Penguins fans saw throughout the regular season. And what is more, Malkin was defended by a rookie for most of the series. Malkin didn’t even score a goal until Game 4. Malkin’s lack of offense led to many lapses of discipline on the defensive end of the ice. All of this led to Malkin producing only eight points for the series. Not nearly enough for the Penguins to be relevant.
With such a disappointing series after being Stanley Cup favorites, a dark question lingers. Have the Penguins missed their window for winning another Stanley Cup with this talent-filled team? I don’t think so. All of the key components will be back for a few more years. James Neal decided to settle into Pittsburgh, signing a six-year, $30 million contract extension. A healthy Crosby should be ready to play a full season next year. Evgeni Malkin is coming off an MVP-caliber year, hoping to continue his elevated play. Nearly all of the back end will be back for a few more years. Most are signed through the 2013-14 season. Another thing working in the favor of this particular Penguins squad is their youth. The core of the team is around 25-26 years-old. This is by no means old in the hockey world. As long as health does not become an issue, the Penguins should still have a shot at a few more Cups within the decade. It is hard to argue against a team that has arguably the two best players in the NHL sharing the same ice every game. I do think the Penguins would be wise to invest in a good backup goalie. Brent Johnson is aging. He is currently 35. If the Penguins could get a good one-two punch in the net, similar to what the Blues have, they would be perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup. Had the Penguins had a viable second option this series, I believe the series could have been salvaged, and the Penguins would still be making a run for another Cup.