Wednesday, June 25, 2008

#99: Penguins Post-Mortem

---Different Kind of Win for Pens Fans---

Fans of other NHL teams can no longer play the "Sidney Crosby is a whiner" card and be taken seriously.

If nothing else, the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs have proven that any whining done by Crosby himself doesn't hold a match to the bulk of the at-large NHL fan base. Announcers, too, have been guilty of this, and not just this season.

Embellisher. Diver. Faker. Crybaby.

Do you remember when Jaromir Jagr used to be called these same things? As far as I can tell, Jagr doesn't play the game much differently than he did during his Steel City days, and I don't hear those names used at all.

Now, the dubious mantle of poor sportsmanship has found itself upon the shoulders of Crosby. Or "Crosbaby", as he's come to be called.

I have a theory on this, but just look at what The Kid is up against.

The Penguins lose the season finale to the archrival Philadelphia. Ottawa Head Coach Bryan Murray spews a lisp-ridden tirade on how the Penguins did so in order to not only avoid facing the physical Flyers in the first round, but to draw the banged up and otherwise demoralized and fractured Senators. Grasp at straws much?

Murray's team might very well have lost a best-of-seven series to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the shape they were in.

Still, the public glances over a mediocre coach to heap their scornful gaze upon the best overall player on the ice today.

During Game 1 of the series with the New York Rangers, a penalty was called because Sid went to the ice in a heap after a stick, from one angle, only seemed to brush across his hip/leg area. Announcers jumped all over the "Sid embellished to get a call" parade, only to be shown an angle during the commercial break showing that the blade of the stick did, in fact, pop him in the jaw. They mumble an apology when they come back on the air.

But they weren't done. Marty Straka interferes with Crosby, drawing a penalty that leads to the Pens' winning goal. Announcers again claiming that Crosby embellished.

Again, not the case.

Then New York fans say that the call was only made because the "victim" was Sidney Crosby, and that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman the Inept wants him the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup (this theme will be resurrected shortly when we discuss Detroit). Even after the series, they continued on. Never mind that Crosby had ZERO goals.

Philadelphia is, well...

They hate whoever we have, but that's ok; we hate whoever they have. The only grumblings I recall were about how the only reason Malkin scored the game-tying shorthander in Game One was because he was loafing behind the play.

You realize that if Malkin doesn't score there, we'd still be hearing about the hit that Mike Richards laid on him moments before. They know Geno wouldn't have been loafing had that hit not occurred. Malkin wasn't whining to any ref about being hit, either. He was just trying to see through stars.

Regardless, smacking Philly around was a beautiful thing because, had anyone chosen to remember Bryan Murray's comments at the beginning of the postseason, the Penguins efficiently sliced through the Flyers, too.

And now for Detroit.

I readily admit that the Penguins simply ran into a better overall team. If not for Maxime Talbot, my Red Wings in 5 prediction comes true. And it's not even that the Detroit players are better, per se. They just have an established system that has been adapted to play in the post-lockout version of the NHL. If you look semi-closely, you are reminded of the trap defense the New Jersey Devils played from the mid-90's through the lockout.

The Penguins, meanwhile have come from the Eddie Olczyk "style" of mostly improvisation into Michel Therrien's system in under two years.

It's why when the Penguins got to a puck in the corner of their own end, by the time the outlet pass was made, there were already three Wings at center ice, prepared to forecheck the recipient. When the Wings would get to a puck out of their corner, you usually saw an even 2-on-2 breakout, with the Penguin defensemen skating backwards quickly, just trying not to give up an angle.

The Red Wings' greatest advantage with their older team: Anticipation. Realizing that they wouldn't be able to beat the Pens to the puck in certain situations, they prepared to get it back at center and go in again, rather than have their men trapped behind the action, perhaps having to draw a penalty to stop a counterattack (see Straka pic above).

All that said, all I heard and read from Detroit was that the refs were unfairly favoring the Penguins.


The Red Wings had 30 powerplay chances to the Penguins' 27. Detroit scored on only 4, but the Pens netted 6.

Somehow, more powerplay chances in the series, combined with outscoring Pittsburgh 12-4 while skating 5-on-5 does not indicate to me an unfairness in penalty calling. Maybe it's because heading into the series, the Red Wings had more opportunities than any other team (76), including the Commissioner-favored Penguins (65). The Red Wings even had slightly more opportunities with the extra man than Pittsburgh during the regular season by a slim margin (391 to 378).

Even after the heat of battle, and Lord Stanley's Grail was on its way back to Hockeytown, the claims of unfair play continued.

Penguins fans, here's what that's all about.

Bryan Murray complaining. New York fans outraged. Philadelphia up in arms. Detroit protesting. Many fans who would be considered neutral seeming to jump on that bandwagon.

That's not only whining; that's hypocrisy.

Coming in post #100: Why Mike Lange needs to stay in radio.