The Boston Bruins take game one of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 3-0. Actually, a score of 1-0 would have probably been a better description of how the game went. Like my previous game analyses, I’ll analyze what went right, wrong, and how we need to improve for Monday. Also, I’ll go through the Cooke and Marchand hits since that’s one of the only things people seem to remember from last night.
What We Did Well
First, I have to point out that until the last 10-15 minutes of the game, the Pens actually played quite well. It was a very even game, and it should be a very even series. I’ve read a lot of comments like, “the Bruins destroyed the Penguins” and “the Bruins completely dismantled the Penguins”. These statements are simply not true. Any educated hockey fan watching the game last night would say it was a lot tighter than the score indicated. The shots were 30-29 in favor of the Bruins and the Pens had plenty of chances, including at least three goalposts. A few inches made the difference.
The score could have been 3-1 in favor of the Pens at the end of the first period because their forecheck was, quite frankly, dominant. At the start of the game they were getting pucks deep and pressuring in the Boston zone. They were leading in shots and getting high-quality chances. Besides a few sloppy defensive plays in the neutral zone, they were by far the better team on the ice in the first. Unfortunately, sometimes you can play great and nothing finds the back of the net. That was the Penguins last night. They hit at least three goalposts and had a puck trickle just wide of the goalmouth after beating Rask with 4.5 seconds left in the period. Had the puck been an inch or two to the left the score would have been tied going into the first intermission, and it’s a completely different game. But hey, that’s hockey for you.
The Pens were also able to have a large amount of chances due to the elevated play of Evgeni Malkin. Geno said earlier in the week that he felt great and was ready to go. He wasn’t lying. Last night was Geno’s best game of the playoffs, and if he maintains that level the Bruins won’t be able to keep him off the score sheet for long. Also, Geno drew three penalties throughout the game, two in the first period. The Pens then had several chances on the power play, but couldn’t get the puck on net. Neal and Martin both had some great chances that went just wide. This is where patience comes in. Just give it time, and some of those high quality scoring chances will turn into goals. This is similar to game four of the Ottawa series. At the beginning of that game it seemed as though the Pens couldn’t find an answer for Craig Anderson. However, as soon as they got one past him, things snowballed. There’s a real possibility that once the Pens score of Rask, a similar situation could take place. Note: the Bruins play overall better team defense than the Sens, so don’t expect to be scoring six or seven goals a game, but there is a definite chance that once we score one we will score on a regular basis.
Another good note for the Pens and Pens fans is that Tuukka Rask, while putting up a shutout, was honestly not that great. Don’t get me wrong, he made some great saves, but he also gave up numerous rebounds. This is something that is typical of his game, which is why I’m surprised that we didn’t have someone in front of the net at all times. He’ll give you opportunities to score, you just have to be patient.
Even though the Pens came out of the first period last night down one to nothing, if they play that way the rest of the series they will win. They just have to be patient and stick to the forecheck they had in the first.
Well, for starters we won 16 faceoffs to the Bruins’ 32. So um, yeah, not much to say about that. However, while lost faceoffs took away from opportunities for the Pens, they didn’t lead to goals by Boston. This was mostly caused by the fact that much of the game was played in Boston’s zone. What did lead to Boston’s goals was a lack of defensive discipline. The defense gave up numerous odd-man rushes, something reminiscent of the Islanders series. However, the Bruins goals were not on these chances either. The goal that bothers me most from a defensive standpoint is the second one. The play begins with Mark Eaton having the puck in his own zone along the left hand boards. Letang is the trailer. While carrying the puck, Eaton engages an opponent along the boards. He should have chipped the puck up the boards and out of the zone beforehand, but instead holds the puck, loses it in his skates, and it results in a turnover. That’s defensive blunders number one. The puck is then flipped through the air almost on top of Vokoun with Letang and Krejci in the paint. Here’s where Letang makes one of, if not the worst, plays of the night. He attempts to play the puck with his stick instead of his glove. The puck lands in the paint, and Letang’s stick has now been taken out of the play because he has it elevated. This causes Letang to just be an obstacle that has taken himself out of the play in front of Vokoun. In other words, not the type of play you want from a Norris Trophy candidate. If the Pens tighten up defensively, there’s a good chance none of those goals go in.
Last night was also not the best game of Sidney Crosby. It was pretty bad. He didn’t win faceoffs and was not up to his usual backchecking abilities. Also, he made some poor decisions with the puck on the power play that stifled some chances. His line as a whole was pretty quiet, which brings me to Chris Kunitz, who also had a bad game. Kunitz makes his living by going to the gritty areas in front of the net. Last night, Rask gave up numerous rebounds with him on the ice and Kunitz was no where to be found in front of the net. Like Sid, he also made some bad decisions with the puck and was lax defensively. He needs to play the way he always has and get to the net.
Speaking of Kunitz not getting to the net, this is something that practically no one did last night. I’ve stressed Rask’s tendency to give up rebounds and this is something the Pens need to take advantage of. We saw them go to the net against Ottawa and it paid off. We need to play the same way.
What We Can Learn From Game One
Skill beats strength. The Pens need to realize that they don’t have to outmuscle the Bruins. Pittsburgh has more depth skill wise and they need to take advantage of that. The Pens can hang with the Bruins physically, but they’re not going to win games that way. They’ll win games because they are skilled and can score. If they get back to doing that they will be absolutely fine in this series. The Bruins will try to get the Pens to retaliate and play Bruins style hockey. Unlike last night, moving forward we can’t let that happen. We have to be disciplined. Play physical, but use it as a defense. Do not initiate. This is something that watching video and a day off will help with.
Second, the Pens have to be patient. This goes hand in hand with my previous point about being disciplined. Last night, despite several chances, the Pens failed to score. It resulted in them getting frustrated, which took them off their game. They got sloppy and tried to force passes. It was as though they were in desperation mode. They need to relax and establish a forecheck instead of forcing stretch passes. They need to realize that goals will come, but they need to remain patient.
Third, like I said earlier, the Pens need to get to the net. Rask will give up rebounds and we need to be ready for them. Go to the net and play gritty instead of looking for the perfect play.
I also believe individual players will up their game. Last night was not a good one for Sid, but he is also very good at adjusting. There aren’t too many times in his career where you can point to multiple bad games in a row. Look for him to have a much better showing Monday night. This in turn will cause his line to be more effective. The second line did a good job last night, and if the top line starts rolling too it will be hard for Boston to defend.
As expected, as soon as the Pens lost a game, there are people yelling for Fleury to be back in net. Ironically, it’s these same people that wanted to give Fleury another chance after three bad games in round one. First off, the defense collapsed on those goals last night. I’m not sure a different goalie would have made a difference. Second, Vokoun’s style of play matches up better against the Bruins. Fleury plays a typical butterfly style and is very modern when it comes to clearing the crease. He relies a lot on the defensemen to clear the puck. While having the defense clear the puck is desirable, the Pens have not been great at this. Also, the Bruins send guys to the net. Relying on the defense to clear the crease is an accident waiting to happen. However, Vokoun has an old fashioned European style to his game. He’s confident handling the puck and is very efficient at clearing the crease himself. This is huge against Boston, who uses large bodies like Lucic to get to the net and create havoc at the goal line. Bottom line is, Vokoun is the starter and until he has a bad game, it stays that way. If the Pens lose Monday, which I don’t think they will, then there could be a goalie discussion, but certainly not now after one loss.
Cooke/McQuaid and Marchand/Neal
Last night was a great night of hockey. Unfortunately, dirty hits by both teams have left the actual hockey in the rearview mirror. First, both hits were dirty. Both McQuaid and Neal were hit on the numbers and their heads went into the boards. There are some slight discrepancies that made each hit a bit different. First, McQuaid is squared to the boards when Cooke hits him. Neal is not completely square. This makes the Cooke/McQuaid hit more dangerous in those regards. However, things go both ways. Neal didn’t see Marchand coming, which makes for a very dangerous hit. McQuaid saw Cooke coming yet put himself in a vulnerable position. Take a look at this picture.McQuaid has time to react and doesn’t. Yes, it is a dirty hit and Cooke shouldn’t have done it, but it was definitely avoidable. I’ve heard some people say that McQuaid had no time to react. I’m also willing to say these people haven’t learned to skate properly. Look at the position of McQuaid’s skates in the picture. All he has to do is take the inside edge of his left skate going into the boards to make himself perpendicular with the boards, therefore avoiding the hit completely. That’s not what he does. Instead he turns his right skate into the boards, causing himself to put his back to Cooke leaving him vulnerable. I like to think of this like the Gryba hit on Eller in the Montreal/Ottawa series. No one denies the hit by Gryba was dirty. However, most rational people understand that the hit was practically set up by the Canadiens themselves. Eller’s teammates made a dangerous pass into the neutral zone, setting Eller up to take a hit. That’s why you play pucks out along the boards. While it was a dirty hit by Gryba, the Canadiens could have avoided it. Last night it was a dirty hit by Cooke but McQuaid could have avoided it.
Where my frustration comes in about these hits is the penalties that were assessed. If you’ve read my previous posts or follow me on Twitter you know I’m not one to blame refs for a loss. I don’t blame them for last night’s loss either. What I do have a problem with is them letting the game get out of hand to the point that someone gets hurt. We’re lucky no one was hurt last night. On the Cooke/McQuaid hit Cooke was given a five minute major and a game misconduct. Personally, I think if it were someone other than Cooke it would have been two minutes, but honestly I don’t have a problem with the call. If anything, severe calls like that are good for the game of hockey. After all, the goal is to eliminate those kinds of hits from the game. The problem I have is with the call on Marchand. I said earlier how the hit on Neal was basically the same as the hit on McQuaid except for a few differences. Therefore, the same penalty should have been given. However, Marchand got away with just a two minute minor for roughing. This is unacceptable. I’m not upset that the Pens didn’t get three extra minutes on the power play, although it would have been nice considering at the time it was still a 1-0 game. I’m upset with the fact that by not giving Marchand a major penalty, the league is not sending a message that those hits have no place in the game of hockey. Handing out two game misconducts for illegal hits in one game would have gone a long way in eliminating hits such as those from the rest of the series. Instead, now it’s a guessing game of what players can get away with. Another problem I have with the call on Marchand is that Marchand and Claude Julien didn’t even think it should have been a penalty. People say Sid complains about calls, but my gosh, Marchand was complaining in the box. It was a dirty hit and he needs to realize that he was wrong.
Another note, both Cooke and Marchand have had sketchy pasts. Cooke on Savard, Marchand on Salo just to throw out two examples. Regardless, a player’s past should not dictate the penalty assessed because no matter who the player, those hits have no place in the game, and the league needs to make that known.
Anyway, I’m upset that the proper penalty wasn’t given, but again, it’s not just because of the missed power play time. I’ve said time and again how refs have let games get out of hand and then someone gets injured. A good example is game one against the Islanders where the refs stopped calling penalties due to the lopsided score and then a scary hit on Jokinen took place. Last night the Pens were frustrated with the call on Marchand and at the end of the second period fighting broke out. No one can be sure, but I have a good feeling that if Marchand was given a major and game misconduct the mess at the end of the period doesn’t happen. Bottom line is, the refs need to call it both ways and dirty hits need to be removed from the game by assessing them with harsh penalties.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad game. Defensively there were some collapses, and that’s about the most negative thing you can take away. If the Pens are patient and rely on skill rather than strength they should come out on top of this series. I think it will go six or seven but at the end of the day I think the Pens will find a way to win. So if you’re a Bruins fan acting like you’ve won the series because you won game one, stop. If you’re a Pens fan acting like you’ve lost the series because you lost game one, stop. I haven’t heard any educated hockey fan pick either Boston or the Pens to sweep, so get ready for a long, hard fought, intense series. This is what playoff hockey is all about everyone. Enjoy it.