Paul Martin: Paul Martin was a beast this series: He played Power Play, Penalty Kill, he finished tied for the team lead in points with 8, and his +7 rating for the series was the cherry on top despite the Penguins defensive corps not showing up at all – Letang and Scuderi were awful for long stretches of the series – Niskanen is a serious defensive liability and despite matching Martin offensively in the series, only finished a +1 despite his 8 points – Did Olli Maatta even play in the first round? Orpik only played in 4 games due to injury… so through defensive inconsistency, general ineffectiveness, and injury, Paul Martin was the glue that held the blue line together.
Marc-Andre Fleury: I don’t care about his Game 4 gaffes – to that point in the series – Neal, Malkin and Crosby hadn’t combined to score a single goal – the defensive zone coverage was non-existent, and yet the Penguins were still 2-2 and MAF was a major reason why. I don’t care about Fleury’s subpar .908 save percentage either – Fleury still outdueled former Vezina Winner Sergei Bobrovsky and despite not having the numbers of a Lundqvist or Rask – he outplayed the only person he needed to outplay: Bobrovsky. Not to mention, this Penguins team is hardly the ‘94 Devils, so pardon me while I give the Flower some much needed love.
Brandon Sutter: A third line Center that played with roughly 7 different line-mates throughout the course of the series, dominated the face-off circle at home, was solid defensively, killed penalties, and still scored three goals and two assists, all at even strength *including the Game 1 winner. With offensive depth at an all-time low, Sutter picked up the slack not only for those lines, but the under-producing top lines as well (Sutter’s solid play allowed the Penguins to stack Malkin and Crosby together for the final two games of the series). I can’t believe I’m about to type this…but Brandon Sutter was the Penguins lynchpin in this series…which is great for Brandon Sutter, but I don’t know how great it is for the Penguins…
Secondary Scoring won the Penguins this series – Jokinen, Sutter, Niskanen, and Martin all played above and beyond offensively; hopefully, it will be as a supplement as opposed to a necessity against the Rangers.
Coaching: I didn’t like Dan not matching lines, again, even while his stars were under producing. I was sick of Brandon Dubinsky by the 2nd period of Game 1- I’m sure Crosby was too, but c’mon, Dan, you have to match lines to an extent – not all the time, but sometimes for Christ sakes, make an effort – And I’ve said it 1,000 times, if your not matching lines during the game while you have three other assistant coaches at your disposal, especially at home…then what the hell are you doing?
Furthermore, the only reason Columbus didn’t take last change all series is because Todd Richards decided his team was playing well enough and didn’t need to match lines. And doesn’t anyone else, anyone at all, find it weird that Todd Richards was talking about deciding not to match Dubinsky against Crosby after game 2? It’s not like Richards is talking about line matchups after a home game, he was talking about deciding matchups during a road game. Watching this Boston/Montreal series, either of those two teams would maul the Pens – either with their size/physicality (Boston) or speed/discipline (Montreal) or coaching (Boston/Montreal). Montreal looks like the team to beat at this very moment.
I will give credit where credit is due, I’m glad Dan moved Malkin and Crosby together during Game 5 – I don’t know that it was his idea, but it was an adjustment that changed the series and the Pens looked downright dangerous with new line combinations. Splitting Malkin and Neal up is long overdue and it jump-started Geno’s series almost on cue, Crosby shouldn’t be far behind.
Defensive Zone Coverage: The Penguins surrendered 3 goals in 5 of 6 games to a Columbus team that is the worst offensive team in the playoffs by far…that’s unacceptable.
Special Teams: The Power Play scored a huge goal in game 5 but it had given up three short handed goals in the games prior. Giving up three short handed goals in a series against anyone is almost certain death, it’s actually kind of impressive the Pens didn’t need seven games to advance. As for the Penguins Penalty Kill, it was less than impressive to say the least. Friggin Columbus went 26% for the series – even the Rangers prehistoric power play may have a shot against the suddenly leaky Pens PK.
Protecting Leads: The bad habits the Penguins developed during the last three seasons were on full display in Games 2 & 4 --- they blew leads of 2 goals and 3 goals respectively against the least skilled team in the playoffs. Did I mention that already? I’m really just so sick of seeing the same mistakes year after year – the Penguins couldn’t keep a multiple goal lead against the Flyers twice in 2012 – the Islanders or Senators in 2013 – and they blow TWO seemingly insurmountable leads against an offensively skill-less Columbus team, and they almost epically blew a 3rd in Game 6 – it’s almost like the Pens have a cultural commitment to defensive indifference. It’s the sports equivalent of the Steelers throwing 10 straight plays with a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter, squandering that lead and losing, and then doing it week after week, except for the times in which the passes connect and the Steelers win by 35. That’s the Penguins.
Demeanor: Did it make anyone else pause for concern that the Penguins celebrated beating the upstart Jackets like they had just won the Miracle on Ice? I swear I saw Bylsma wrapped in the American Flag like he was a folk hero following Game 6…almost positive.
So did the Penguins figure “it” out during games 5 and 6, when they territorially dominated the Jackets? Have they learned their lesson? Are they about to go on a run? What if Crosby-Geno-Flower go crazy against the Rangers and it jumpstarts the whole team? Of course, any of those scenarios are certainly possibile…but…
I just don’t see it: How can I expect a team that hasn't yet shown an ability to protect a lead, doesn’t match lines effectively, is defensively deficient, undisciplined, and seemingly incapable of reaching another level of desperation, to beat the Rangers, Habs/Bruins, then the Western Champion three series in a row? Even scarier is the Penguins are not even playing at their best hockey right now and haven’t even sniffed their highest level for a few seasons now, and in the playoffs, anything less than a team’s best will get them beat every time…eventually.