Mailing it in with some thoughts, dudes…
Tonight’s two assists make it eleven points in five games back for Crosby. I wonder if Sid would admit this may be better than what even he expected. Off the record, of course.
Loved Neal’s reaction during the celebration after he scored his goal against the Rangers, particularly to Sid. That, my friends, was the face of someone who just realized, “I could be getting passes like this for the next 10 years. The next. Ten. Years.”
You hate to see games like the one the Pens just played against the Rangers, but over 82 games, bad games there will be. For as sloppy as they were in the second period, as undisciplined as they were in the latter half of the third, and given that they were missing Letang & Michalek, they still scored three goals and had a chance to tie at the end. That’s scary.
We’re not even a third of the way through the season and Pascal Dupuis has seven goals and 13 assists. 20 points in 25 games. His career high was 20 goals and 48 points (2002-03, MIN). Not sure if he can keep this up, but he’ll destroy his career bests by nearly five goals and 20 points if he does.
Best thing about Crosby’s play over these first five games is that really, nothing in his game that we were used to seeing has changed. He’s going to the same high-traffic areas of the ice. He’s taking the puck right at opposing players and has shown no fear of initiating contact. He’s back-checking relentlessly. He’s not afraid to mix it up in the crease, be it the opposition’s or his own, as we saw against St. Louis and Ottawa.
Speaking of Ottawa, it’s great Bryan Murray is so worried about Sid when Ottawa is 30th in the league in goals against. That’s saying something, too, because I’m pretty sure Columbus has been playing with an empty net all year. And it’s really saying something when you consider that a guy Murray deemed wasn’t good enough to play there last year – Brian Elliott – now has 10 wins with St. Louis to go with his 1.31 goals against average and .951 save percentage.
Chris Pronger is going to miss about four weeks for knee surgery. Sure is nice to see him holding up so well in his advanced age, isn’t it? He only played in 50 games last year and missed a handful of playoff games. He already missed 10 games this year with the eye injury (wear a visor next time). This surgery could cost him another 13 games. And just think…he’s signed for another five years! Yay, Holmgren!
And yes, it’s a loophole deal, but Pronger is owed $7 million in salary in each of the next two seasons, and $4 million in 2013-14. If Capgeek is correct, any attempt to buy out his deal costs the Flyers nearly $5 million in cap space per year for each year bought out on his deal. Yay, Holmgren!
In all seriousness, the Pronger thing bears watching. Philly will almost certainly be a factor in the postseason. They’re leading the NHL in goals for per game, but they’re also 19th in the league in goals against per game. Pronger is a obviously a huge part of that defense and his absence forces guys like Timmonen and Carle into bigger defensive roles they aren’t really suited to play.
Speaking of the other big Eastern Conference subplot…
Just three years ago, the Caps and Pens were THISCLOSE. The Pens had Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury. The Caps countered with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green. The teams were neck-and-neck for six full games in the 2009 conference semi-finals and like Staff said on the podcast the other night, who knows where Game Seven goes if Fleury doesn’t stone Ovechkin to open Game Seven.
But now that series feels very far away.
Sure, the Caps have recently enjoyed a run of success against the Pens in the regular season and they won the Winter Classic last year. But the Caps have never ascended the postseason heights that the Pens did in 2008 and 2009. They never really came as close as they did in 2009 under Boudreau again.
Boudreau hated the Penguins and played the villain well, whether it was an unfiltered opinion, an over-the-top reaction to a goal for (or against) his team, or hamming it up to the crowd at the Winter Classic alumni game last year. While 24/7 revealed that in plain detail, it also helped confirm what we had heard about him – that he didn’t really seem to have that room after the 2010 playoffs. There was this unsettling tension there, or at least the lack of a true comfort level between player and coach. Watching it unfold during one of the worst slumps of his tenure, you couldn't help but get the sense that certain players in that room were rolling their eyes at him, laughing behind the back of the fat bald guy whose face turned as red as their jerseys when he went on another expletive-laced tirade.
To that end, maybe it’s unfair that he took the fall Monday, because I'm not so sure he is a bad coach. He's not the same type of persona as Bylsma, but he seems like he'd be a decent coach to play for. And to his credit, he tried just about everything to right this Caps' ship – changing systems, approaches, lineups, goalies. He called out role players and stars alike. Nothing worked. Nothing resonated. Nothing clicked. It's fair to say he wasn't the biggest problem there, but that’s the way it happens. You can’t trade two or three stars…unless you’re Paul Holmgren, I suppose. The coach goes first.
So how do the Caps respond? Well, a lot of comparisons were immediately drawn on Monday to what the Pens did in 2009 when Bylsma took over for Therrien. The assumption was that Dale Hunter could right this ship in much the same way Bylsma did with the Pens.
But I don’t know that it’s completely understood just how rare was that run in 2009. Bylsma took over with 25 games left in the 2008-09 season; the Pens took points in 22 of those games. Of 50 available standings points, they took 40. That’s a ridiculous performance, the kind of run that is only accomplished with a team that is willing to buy-in 100% to the coach.
There are two parts to that equation – a coach who knows what he’s doing & how to get through to the players, and players willing to do what is necessary. And that’s really how the separation between the legacies of these two eras of each franchise began. The Pens have bought in. They changed their game where necessary. They paid a physical price to play a demanding system that took advantage of their speed and puck skills. Their star players forechecked AND backchecked relentlessly. Three seasons later, it’s still going on with many of the same core players, all of whom continue to buy in and improve their games.
The Caps? Not so much. Not really at all. They wouldn't be here now if they had.
Will it change under Hunter?
Pardon me if I’m not holding my breath.