Tuesday’s With Stoosh: 5.18

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.

Some thoughts as the aftershocks from that sickening thud that was the end of the 2009-10 Pittsburgh Penguins hockey season begin to settle:

Evgeni Malkin is not going to be traded this summer.  Just stop.  Enough already.  
There may come a day – maybe sooner than we’d all like to admit – where Shero’s going to have to make a very tough decision regarding the future of Malkin in Pittsburgh.  It won’t be this summer.

When the first official game is played in October at the Consol Energy Center, it’ll be Marc-Andre Fleury who will be standing in between the pipes for the Pens and no one else.  Fleury could’ve let in 10 goals in Game Seven and it wouldn’t change that fact.

A goaltender is the hockey equivalent of a quarterback or a defensive back in the NFL.  Every mistake is magnified, and even the best at their respective positions get burned every once in a while.  There’s really no such thing as a “good” interception; there’s no such thing as a “good” goal-against.  You could look at just about every goal a goalie allows and argue that “he should’ve stopped it.”  The key, of course, is to avoid having the bad games at the worst possible times and Fleury learned that horrible lesson in Game Seven against Montreal.

Fleury had a fairly inconsistent 2009-10 season.  That said, his critics would do well to remember that this was a goaltender who was largely lights out for the better part of two playoff runs that resulted in consecutive Cup Finals appearances.  This notion that he can’t do it when it counts or that he never comes up big is absurd; he did it two years in a row.

It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of effect that Game Seven loss has on Fleury.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fleury return much more focused and with a much different demeanor.  Nearly 48 hours had passed when the team gathered to clean out locker and meet with the media for the last time this season on Friday, and Fleury still wasn’t close to being over his performance.

Sorry to keep harping on Fleury.  He can be just as maddening at times to me as he seems to be to most of his critics.  But pardon me if I’m not quite ready yet to run him out of town because he had a bad series.  Tough to jam him when guys like Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur are also home watching the playoffs.  And maybe I still remember a little too well what it was like to try to talk myself into Sebastien Caron or Jean-Sebastian Aubin as the top goaltender to open a season.

The NHL Network is playing a “Classic Series” episode – the 1986 series between Montreal and Calgary.  Badger Bob was coaching the Flames.  Goalies back then looked like Gumby figures, and their leg pads couldn’t have been any bigger than old plastic-shell Mylec street hockey goalie pads.  And no one sold out to block shots.  Not at all.  It’s no wonder Gretzky scored 215 points that season.

Dear NHL marketing department, Way to take a great concept – those “History Will Be Made” commercials – and absolutely drive it into the ground.  They were just fine when they covered some of the game’s legendary moments.  Should’ve left well enough alone.

Montreal did a terrific job taking away the middle of the ice and forcing the Pens’ wingers to beat them.  With all due respect to guys like Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke, they’re all far too similar players with skill sets that really aren’t geared toward sniping or getting the puck through crowds of people with any degree of accuracy.  Want to know why there are so many calls for Shero to upgrade the wings?  This is why. 

Montreal may have finally discovered the way to stifle the Pens’ offensive depth, which is at its best when it can attack going up the middle of the ice.  The Habs found players willing to collapse on their own goaltender, block shot after shot after shot and generate scoring chances off of whatever limited chances they got.  Similar styles of play and the success they achieved in the playoffs in the mid-1990s led to a rise in copycat tactics for any team that had a hard time matching their opponent skill-for-skill. The NHL needs to tread lightly here.  Teams want to win, but we lost a season not too long ago because the game became unwatchable due to stuff like this getting out of control.

All that said, it helped Montreal to have a hot goaltender capable of stealing a handful of games in that series.  Game Seven aside, the three other Penguin losses could’ve easily gone the other way if not for Halak.  System design can be copied, but a hot goaltender can’t. 

With guys like Mark Letestu, Nick Johnson and Eric Tangradi knocking at the NHL door and cap money always at a premium, it’s going to be interesting to see how Ray Shero handles some of the lower-line depth on the Pens this offseason.
A few more thoughts on the end of this season:

Many of the Pens core players who have been around for this entire playoff run have played 303 hockey games going back to the start of the 2007-08 season.  That’s nearly four full seasons’ worth of hockey condensed into three years.  
It’s not an excuse, but it’s a factor that may have played a role in this second-round loss.  Maybe it wasn’t so much that this team couldn’t flip the switch or “go to the well” or whatever cliché you want to use.  Maybe it’s because 303 games worth of hockey in three years left little in the tank.

The Pens of the early-to-mid 1990s were chock full of Hall of Fame-caliber talent.  Lemieux.  Jagr.  Francis.  Barrasso.  Mullen.  Murphy.  Coffey.  Stevens.  Tocchet.  Robitaille.  Samuelsson.  This was before there were defensive-oriented systems, goaltending coaches and advanced year-long training regimens.  Those teams, with all that talent, won two Cups.  The next time you hear someone gripe about how ridiculous it was that this team couldn’t defend its Cup, remind them of that. 

It’s not the toughest trophy in pro sports to win for a reason.