Tuesdays with Stoosh: 5:04

Commentor Stoosh has been around quite a while.
He even has a shirt in Storeblog.
He's banged out beastly Homer-esque comments with a high level of consistency.
Only fitting to give him the reins.
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Had you tuned in to the Pens post-game show following the Game One win over the Canadiens, you would’ve heard calls dripping with confidence and predicting the Pens would be on to the Eastern Conference Finals after about five games.  Some were already calling for a potential sweep.

Fast forward a little less than 48 hours later.  On Sunday afternoon, the Pens dropped Game Two by a score of 3-1 to the Habs.  The same post-game show was filled with calls for the benching of Flower and even Evgeni Malkin.  Message boards weren’t much better.  Finger pointing spared almost no one, not even Pens captain Sidney Crosby, who had probably his worst game of the playoffs.

Now, it’s worth noting that by no means was the sentiment universal.  WPXI had a reporter corralling fans on their way out of Mellon Arena or in some local bars following Game Two and tried to extract some sense of panic or negativity.  Few if any took the bait.  Then again, that could be Pens fans acknowledging the likely chance that no one from WPXI could’ve told you what Jordan Leopold actually looked like until about three weeks ago.

But it’s all illustrative of a roller-coaster ride that is an NHL playoff series.  In no other game can you really go from such an optimistic high to such a depressing low in a matter of not just one game or one period, but one shift.  Less than 48 hours after witnessing their team get five pucks behind him and chase him from the game, Pens fans were wondering whether their team had what it took to test Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak over the remaining five possible games of the series.

The calls to bench Fleury and/or Malkin are beyond ridiculous and I’d like to think most of them are the product of fans in states of frustration and nothing more.  At this stage of the game, Malkin’s going to have to score multiple goals in his own net, then skate to the bench and punch Coach Bylsma in the face to get benched, and even that might not do it.  Sentencing Malkin or Fleury to nacho duty at this point would be like an NFL team benching its top running back or wideout for a playoff game because he dropped a pass or fumbled the game before.  It’s just not going to happen.

It’s true that Geno has yet to take over a game or two the way he did last year against Carolina, but it’s still early.  This is a Pens team that proved against Ottawa that it can and will adapt as a series wears on and the opponent wears down.

Fleury proved last year several times that he’s more than capable of putting this team on his back in the post-season, despite the drivel that national media luminaries like Stan Fischler continue to spout (Fischler tweeted on Sunday that “Fleury flubbed, as expected”.  As expected?  Apparently, Stan saw neither Game Six nor Game Seven of the 2009 Cup Finals.  Perhaps he was too busy oogling his Henrik Lundqvist poster).  That said, this doesn’t look quite like the same Fleury we saw last year.  Could be a product of the defensive scheme changing in front of him, but he’s fighting the puck a little more than he did last year.  To this point, it hasn’t hurt the team; you just hate to see it get to the point that it might.  He brings his game up just a little bit and the criticism goes away.

Second-round thoughts, dudes…

  • One thing worries me about this series with the Habs and that seems to be Jacques Martin stealing chapters from the Florida Panthers 1996 Playoff Playbook.  Seeing the Habs collapsing their defensemen down to the goaltender, chipping the puck out and only trying to capitalize on Pens’ mistakes brought back nightmares of John VanBiesbrouck and a Panthers team that clutched and grabbed its way to a Cup Finals appearance.
  • Now that I’ve sent some of you cowering into the corner in the fetal position, I really don’t think the series will go that way for a variety of reason.  The rope-a-dope strategy worked for Montreal against the Capitals because the Capitals were either too stubborn or too stupid to adjust, making them prime candidates for an upset.  It won’t work against a team like the Pens, who have proven capable of playing multiple styles to win games.
  • Also have to wonder how long Montreal players can keep up this pace.  Tuesday night’s game will be their tenth game in 20 days, and they’ve now lost their top two defensemen.  I’m sure there’s some sort of Gary Bettman-generated, pro-Sidney Crosby comparison behind this all.
  • Habs goaltenders have seen fewer than 35 shots in a game only once since the playoffs started.
  • Have to laugh at this notion that the Pens are somehow going to be intimidated going into the big, bad Centre Bell for Games Three and Four.  Look, I get the mystique of playing there and it’s a big deal for the French-Canadian kids, yadda yadda yadda.  But Montreal fans themselves – when not busy celebrating every Habs goal like a relative just got married – will admit that their current warehouse with a hockey rink isn’t exactly the Montreal Forum.
  • And this is a Pens team whose core members 1) came back from a three-goal deficit on the road to close out the Flyers last year, 2) overcame a 2-0 series deficit to eliminate the Capitals in Game Seven on the road, and 3) went into Detroit in Game Seven and won the Stanley Cup.  Methinks a couple of road games in Montreal won’t scare anyone in a black and gold jersey.
  • Ruslan Fedotenko looks like the real-life personification of the medium-sized guy from NES Ice Hockey.
  • Speaking of hockey video games, I cannot even begin to describe how awesome this is going to be?
  • Welcome to big-time playoff hockey, Joe Thornton.
  • Every Bruins fan out there right now is wondering where their team would be right now without Miro Satan.
  • Anyone else find themselves watching those GEICO commercials with Mike Green, pointing at the television and laughing?  No?  Just me?
  • One thing I will say about the Capitals – they never, ever fail to disappoint Pens fans this time of year.