Drozz is a fellow blogger who is deeply involved in hockey, from playing it to supporting his favorite NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers. I hereby concede the first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Flyers to him.
The Pens were everybody’s favorite to go all the way to the Stanley Cup finals once they regained the services of Sidney Crosby, who was out with a concussion most of the year. After all, without much assistance from Crosby, they wound up with 108 points, just one behind the first-seeded Rangers and three behind the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks.
(The Canucks are also sadly losing their series 3-0 to the L.A. Kings, but I digress.)
I have to say that even though the Flyers had the Pens’ number during the regular season, I felt the series would go no more than six games, with the Pens on the winning end. Boy, was I wrong! I did not expect the meltdown on the ice in three consecutive games, two of which were at home.
In a way, yesterday’s 8-4 loss summed up the postseason for the Pens, demonstrating all the issues the snakebit Penguins have encountered. There were 74 penalty minutes plus two game misconducts in the first period alone! There were 78 in the third. For the game, 160, thanks to a relatively quiet second period. The Flyers play rough, but the Pens lost their discipline, nullifying their juggernaut offense and incapacitating their defense. Kris Letang and Craig Adams were handed game misconduct penalties, and Arron Asham got a match penalty for deliberately hurting Brayden Schenn. Even Sidney Crosby, the team captain, got into the mix, incurring his first ever postseason penalty. Instead of leading his team away from the unnecessary violence, Crosby exacerbated it.
Adams’ match penalty got him suspended for one game, which might just mean his season is through, for if the Pens can’t snap out of the chippy crap, they will kiss their season goodbye on Wednesday night in the City of Brotherly Booing of Santa Claus. Adams’ big mistake that netted him the matcher was pulling Scott Hartnell off Crosby and then pulling his hair during the ensuing “discussion”. The NHL doesn’t look kindly upon fighting like a girl. (Give Artificially Sweetened credit for coming up with that one.)
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was fined $10,000 for Adams’ actions. Further sanctions are expected to be levied against Asham for his hit on Schenn, which he followed by beating Schenn’s head into the ice, and Neal, whose feet left the ice in drop-kicking Claude Giroux. This was not hockey, it was WWE, or close to it. The big difference was that nothing was scripted or faked.
Should we question the leadership of Byelsma and Crosby? Apparently, no one’s listening to Byelsma. In an interview between periods of yesterday’s game Byelsma said that he told his players to concentrate on what happens before the whistle, and not get involved in activities after the whistle. Given the 160 minutes of penalties as proof positive, his point must have gone in one collective ear and out the other. As for Crosby, he’s not showing any leadership at all when he gets into a playground scuffle with Giroux, which Crosby started by sweeping Giroux’s glove away when Giroux was about to pick it up. After the game he said he didn’t like Giroux and he didn’t like any of the Flyers. This is leadership? To me, it’s pouting and behavior unworthy of a “C” on the front of his sweater.
Meanwhile, the Flyers have been taking care of business, playing their game without distraction. When the aforementioned offensive juggernaut went up on them in all three games thus far, the Flyers did not alter their plan, did not get out of control, and did not show frustration. They just went on to come back and win.
They have the potential to win the Cup, given their talent and discipline, a credit to coach Peter Laviolette. It is hard to believe that 19 year-old Sean Couturier has virtually shut down the Pens’ big gun, 50 goal scoring Evgeni Malkin. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux are two of the best centers in the game. And given that the defense has been missing the veteran Chris Pronger for just about the whole season, they have obviously more than held their own against the so-called juggernaut.
Last year, the Flyers played musical goalies in the playoffs. This time, they settled on 23 year-old Ilya Bryzgalov. His goaltending has been pretty shabby, but the Pens have been shabbier. The “scoring juggernaut” should have been able to take advantage, but hasn’t.
Before the season started, we had the drama of the Jaromir Jagr sweepstakes. Jagr, a former star with the Pens who played in Europe for several years afterward, visited both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Philly won because Mario Lemieux would not part with the bundle of cash Jagr was looking for. No great loss, we Pens fans said. It gave us the opportunity to boo the Czech every time he controlled the puck, and besides, he was approaching 40 years old so how much could he have contributed, anyhow? But Jagr has been a key figure in the Flyers’ domination of the Pens in this series, as has former Pen Max Talbot.
Yes, I have to believe that the Flyers have the talent to go to the finals. I have to think that they’ll sweep the discombobulated Penguins in the first round, but if the Pens somehow win Game 4, it means only that the Flyers will come back in Game 5 to humiliate the Pens on home ice.
What a disappointment!