Ouch. We have another decent game, and we just can’t win. Literally. Sustained pressure resulted in an advantage in shots. We got a power play goal. There were no more crazy bounces off the boards. This were going our way. But a couple of dirty goals and the first true softy of the series later, and we’re in an 0-2 hole.
This doesn’t seem fair, does it? We’ve had two pretty good games and nothing to show for it. It seems like luck is totally on the side of Detroit right now. Frustration is settling in on Pens fans. Something must be wrong if we’ve played well twice and lost. But what is it? I’ve heard a lot of grumbling about the officiating. I’ve heard that the superstars need to get us on the board more. Most people seem to blame Fleury. I don’t agree with any of them. Let me tear down those three arguments and then i’ll place blame where I see it.
Lets get to the refs first. The Wings are slashing like its going out of style. They’re covering up pucks in the blue paint. They’re getting away with penalties left and right. But as long as its not being called, you have to play on. We have guys that can deke you out of your skates and see the ice like no one else on earth. A tightly called game definitely favors us. A loosely called game does not. Pens fans are coming to that realization right now, and we don’t like it. But as long as they’re letting everything go at both ends (which they are), there’s nothing you can do. In other words, it’s not their fault they’re cheating. It’s our fault for not cheating, too.
The next argument is that the superstars need to score more. This hits upon one of my pet peeves: people who equate playing well and scoring. Yes, scoring is an easy way to see if someone is playing well, but it’s an awful way to tell if someone is playing poorly. Crosby had some excellent set-up passes this weekend. Malkin got a goal and was one of the few guys who could stick handle through the Wings. We’re getting shots on net. Good shots. We’ve clanked some off the iron. Some have fallen right on Osgood. The bottom line is that we’ve been playing good (not great, but good) in the offensive zone despite not lighting up the scoreboard.
Finally, Fluery seems to be getting dumped on a lot right now. Which is a shame. Osgood is playing great, and he’s playing good. Nothing to be said for that. Fleury had some awful bounces in game one, but the majority of his troubles are the result of his defense. He’s constantly being screened (see first goal game 2). He’s got a sea of red jerseys in front of him to put home rebounds. He needs his defensemen to really clear some space for him. I know that the Pens are deathly afraid of drawing an interference penalty and putting the potent Red Wing power play on the ice, but you’ve got to re-read the first argument in this post. The refs have swallowed the whistles. Go ahead and clear the front of the net. If the refs call it, THEN you can scream bloody murder about the refs screwing you. It really is a shame. Fleury has played well enough to win. That third goal last night was the only one that is truly soft. He just needs some help from his friends.
So if it’s not the offense, and it’s not the goaltending, and it’s not the refs, what is keeping us from winning? Answer: the game plan. When you play Detroit, you know exactly what you’re going to get. They play smart, efficient, (boring if more teams did it) hockey. They are the masters of obstruction. They feel what they can get away with and toe the line perfectly. That only comes with experience. If you stick-handle too much they just gang up on you, lift your stick, and go the other way. That seems to happen to us a lot. They put a screener in front of the net throughout the game. He might even still stay back there while the rest of the Wings play defense. Every man on the ice is watching rebounds off Ozgood and helping to clear them. It’s smart. It’s efficient. They’ve been doing it for years. Heck, they did it to us last year. But we still act like we don’t know how to deal with it. If they punish you for stick-handling too long, then don’t stick-handle. Use you’re vision to find someone else in open space. They double team a lot, so someone has to be open. If they put guys in front of the net, then match them. Make it a scrum in front and see who wins. We might be surprised to find it could be us more than not. More or less, we have to beat them at their own game. It can be done.
I’ve been saying this all playoffs: the series doesn’t start until someone loses at home. Time to protect our house.