By John Toperzer
“Passive,” “disinterested,” “soft,” these adverbs aptly describe the Penguins’ effort Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Flyers dominated from the drop of the opening puck and Pittsburgh did little to quiet an “amped-up” Wells Fargo crowd. After the game, Pens coach Dan Bylsma focused on his team allowing two special teams goals, including a power-play marker and a short-handed score. Bylsma made it a point to call out Simon Despres’s penalty as “undisciplined.”
I’m a little torn about the repeated mention of lost Penguins man-games. There’s no denying the impact they had on Saturday’s game. Losing James Neal and Chris Kunitz cannot be understated. But the total of 400 or so games lost includes 65 each from Tomas Vokoun and Beau Bennett. That’s 135 games from two players who really wouldn’t have affected Pittsburgh’s record significantly even if they’d been healthy. It could be argued Fleury’s played better because Vokoun hasn’t been there as a threat every time the Flower has had a stinker.
For years, the thinking was that if the Pens only had both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin healthy at the same time then everything else would fall into place. Crosby hasn’t missed a game – knock on wood – and Malkin has missed 11 out of 66, none since Jan. 5. Shouldn’t there also be talk about the relative good health of Crosby, Malkin and Fleury?
After all, these three players alone account for more than one-third of the team’s salary cap hit.
Okay, enough of playing Devil’s Advocate. Let’s look at something positive. Brooks Orpik has picked his game up. Whether his health has improved or he just gets excited to play rivals like the Caps and Alexander Ovechkin or the Flyers, who knows? The fact is he’s got 22 hits and 14 blocked shots over the last four games.
Does it matter that the Penguins didn’t send a message to the Flyers late in the third period Saturday? Zac Rinaldo was running anything in a black & gold sweater, but only Evgeni Malkin took the bait. He almost laughingly tried to catch up to and Braydon Coburn as the defender skated to his bench.
Speaking of Malkin, how does the chilling of political relationships between Russia and the United States impact Russians playing hockey in North America? I haven’t heard any discussion on the matter and that’s probably a good thing. It could make for an awkward situation. Malkin is certainly a patriotic Russian. If Russia pushes its troops past Crimea in the Ukraine and the US deploys more military personnel into bordering countries like Poland, things could get a little hairy. Let’s hope Russia and Putin stand down.
Fleury went 35-18-7 with a 2.67 GAA and .912 save percentage when the Pens won the Stanley Cup in 2008-09. He appeared in 62 games, starting 61.
The Flower holds a 34-15-2 mark with a 2.26 GAA and .918 save percentage in 2013-14 (before Saturday’s tough tilt).
Pittsburgh has 16 games remaining in the regular season, meaning Fleury could start a maximum of 69 games. Considering Jeff Zatkoff (and perhaps Vokoun) figure to see some action, Fleury will likely start somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 games. From 2008-09 to 2011-12, he started 61, 66, 62 and 64 games, respectively.
ROOT Sports announcers Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey suggested the Pens rest Fleury for the third period of Saturday’s game, in order to have him fresh for Sunday. Tweets from Penguin followers also flooded Twitter, suggesting the same thing. The fact that Fleury tended all 60 minutes leads one to believe Zatkoff will get the nod in the rematch Sunday afternoon.
Brian Dumoulin is back playing defense for the Baby Penguins after missing considerable time with a lower-body injury. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pens recall him if they (i.e. coach Bylsma) grow even more fed up with Despres.
Prior to Saturday, the visiting team in the Pens-Flyers series had won 25 of the last 27 regular-season games, according to the @PensRadioNet and @Brian_Metzer. I went back to see how the two sides fared against one another in the postseason. Dating back to 1996-97, the home team has won 15 of 28 playoff games, with Philly holding a similar 15-13 advantage in wins.
Tom Kostopoulos leads the Baby Pens with 42 points in 58 games (heading into Saturday’s action). I’d kind of like to see him come up and add some fire against Philly on Sunday, but it won’t happen. Kostopoulos is the only player on Wilkes Barre’s roster born before 1980.
The good thing about Saturday’s loss is that the Pens have a chance to get rid of the bad taste in less than 24 hours.
Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins