Then, last week, I actually did start getting just a little cheerful over the Pens' prospects. I mean, all their arch-nemeses were gone: New Jersey, Washington, even Detroit. I was thinking, "If they can just get past these pains-in-the-asses Habs, they could at least get into the Final. I mean, come on, Boston or Philly. You gotta be shittin' me. And, if we can get into the Final, who knows? Maybe we'll have a mini-dynasty on our hands."
Of course, I didn't realize at the time that, stating my little soliloquy in the middle of a torrential downpour with nothing but an oil lamp to illuminate my face and ending it all with an eeeeevil stage laugh, only doomed the Penguins' prospects.
That, and one hard-ass goalie from Slovakia where the good ole red, white, and blue ... of the Canadiens' uniform.
Yeah, that was a little self-centered, I'll admit. After all, no matter how much of an egoist I may be, I know I had absolutely nothing to do with that humiliating defeat my hockey team went through last night. First credit has to definitely go to Jaroslav Halak, who clearly has made a deal with Satan (no, not Miroslav ... Old Scratch himself). His goaltending was simply otherworldly. Second credit is all the Canadiens'. They went into this bad boy as the eighth seed and have whipped Washington and Pittsburgh asses. You gotta think these garçon are fer realz.
But let's look at the Pens, shall we? After all, they were the defending Stanley Cup champions. How the hell did they let this debacle happen?
Well, I'm no expert. But I do have this free blog with pretty much unlimited space. So, let me pontificate.
I know tons of people make such a big deal about GM Ray Shero and how he always produces trade deadline "magic" out his sphincter every year. Yeah, I'll give him mega-props for getting Hossa, Dupuis, and Gill back in '08, but, I gotta tell ya, if he traded anything more than a pack of Kools for Ponikarovsky, he most definitely got ripped off.
But that's not really why I'm peeved with the man. It's the team's singular lack of defense this entire season. Now, I don't know what the cap situation was for the Pens last off-season, but it seems to me that they should've moved heaven and earth (or at least Cleveland) to sign either Rob Scuderi and/or (so monumentally obvious now) Hal Gill.
Now, I understand, when teams win with even a little bit of offense, they get a little slap (shot) happy. Shero and Bylsma looked at Crosby and Malkin and that Lord Stanley trophy and said, "We got us some SCORERS!!!" But when one looks back, you can see, it wasn't the "scorers" who won that series (more on that later). In the four games the Pens won, they held Detroit to only six goals.
Defense won the Cup, and Shero and Bylsma let that defense depart. Then, during the season, when one of the main contributors to the Pens' inconsistency was their lackluster defense, Shero decided to get yet another offensive-minded defenseman in Jordan Leopold (whose play, what little I saw of it, I actually enjoyed) because he can "push the puck up the ice." I like those kinds of defensemen, too, but the Pens already had Gonchar and Letang and Goligoski. What they really needed was a guy who can pin fools against the boards and stand them up at the blue line. Orpik is cool, though he sometimes gets a little carried away (as witnessed last night), and Mark Eaton is fine. But the Pens so desperately needed more.
Every NFL fan knows that as soon as pre-season starts, they will have to spend the next six months hearing about what a great "genius" Peyton Manning is. They'll hear about his instincts, his brilliant "football mind," how he calls his own plays, and how he may very well be "the greatest quarterback of all-time."
I'm thinking, the Rocket Experience of going from coaching the bush leagues to winning the Stanley Cup in five-six months must've made Dan Bylsma feel like Peyton Manning. The problem is, Peyton ain't the greatest quarterback of all-time--but quarterbacking's greatest choker. His football mind ain't so brilliant. In fact, in the face of a well-disguised blitz package, Manning can look quite dim.
Bylsma's using Malkin as some sort of floating virus, skating from line to line, seemed equally dim-witted. One of the Penguins' main strengths is their three outstanding centers. A team has to go against Crosby and then Malkin and then Staal. Having to constantly be on top of their games contesting those three wears teams out. Having Crosby and Malkin skating together so often, in an odd way, let Montreal off the hook. They only had to gear up for the one line and then could relatively coast for the next two-three. And some of those lines you slapped together were just one big joke. I mean, Max Talbot-Tyler Kennedy-Soupy Sales?! What the hell were you thinking?
Damn, Flower. You obviously didn't read my last post about stopping the brain farts. I don't blame you. I really don't know what the hell I'm talking about. But damn! I mean seriously ... damn! What the hell was that first goal last night? Where was your head?
Even though you got pulled last night after giving up your fourth goal, I'm actually not too mad at ya, Fleury. After all, your defense had hung you out to dry so often during the series, they need to change your nickname to "Laundry."
Odd-man rushes for short-handed goals, constant crowding of the net, perfect passes along the crease, I mean, where the hell were these guys?
Which reminds me ...
I guess playing in the home province really had him shook. It's like Disney paid the man for his own version of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde on Ice. And when I thought it couldn't get any worse than Game 4's own-goal, Letang piped up, "But wait! There's more!" He's scoring goals! He's giving up goals! He's scoring goals for the opposition! And he can still slice this tomato!!! Mon dieu.
My boy, Dabalu, once said of should've-been Hall-of-Famer, Rod Strickland, "When I watched him in college, I thought, 'How cool. This brutha just don't give a fuck. Then, when he hit the pros, I realized, 'Oh my God, this brutha just don't give a fuck!"
I didn't know this was actually physically possible, but it seems as though Rod Strickland and Sergei Gonchar were separated at birth. I mean, every time he skated, it was like it was a walk in the park. "Oh well, looks like we have another power play. Maybe I'll shoot it. No, I think I should pass it. Hmm ... yeah, I guess I'll pass it."
"Would you look at that, Scott Gomez skating right past me with the puck again. Isn't that rude? You'd think he'd at least say excuse me first. And hey, isn't that Mike Cammalleri scorching Kris again. Boy, I sure do hope they don't score again. Oohh. Oh, well. What can you do?"
Yes, Mr. Houdini, we are quite used to your disappearing act. We saw it first during that '08 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. That's when I first made the joke about the Russian mafia having tied up your family.
You worked out your inconsistencies marvelously from Game 3 onward in last year's Cup Final. We thought you had finally arrived, but then you went back to your old, inconsistent ways this entire season.
For the Habs series, you added a new wrinkle to your magic act. You would come on strong, steal the puck, charge down the ice toward Halak, and then poof! disappear right in the middle of your own play, just to throw some of the limpest noodles at the goalie in the History of Impotence. I don't know what the hockey equivalent to Viagra is, but damn you needed it this series.
The #1 Person to blame
for the Penguins' loss is ...
Yes. I know there is plenty of blame to go around. I know that Hal Gill was King Kong and Jaroslav Halak was Godzilla this series. And I know that Sid the Kid is a fan favorite and a media darling and a superstar and all that.
It's just that, for three years in a row, I have watched Crosby totally disappear when his team needed him the most. When defenses are mediocre or high-flying, Crosby can light it up with the best of them. But against vise-like Ds like we'd seen from Detroit in '08 and '09 and from the Canadiens this last series, El Sid simply shuts down.
I used to think it was about size. I would think about all the things that Lemieux was able to do on the ice and had to remind myself that (aside from the fact that they have different games), at the time, he was one of the biggest guys out there. Sid the Kid most definitely isn't that. But Mike Cammalleri has been proving this playoff season that you can be a midget out there on the ice. It doesn't matter. If you've got the heart, you can accomplish anything.
And so far, I gotta say, Crosby hasn't shown that he's got that heart. Last year, it was the D, Malkin, and Staal and his line who stood up and won that Cup while Crosby whined on the bench, all "injured," and shit.
This past series, a bunch of the role players stepped their games up (that first goal was totally Dupuis' Herculean effort), but the stars did not. They were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, I thought Crosby and Malkin had become Bonds and Bonilla.
I know those two are still just kids; but so is Jordan Staal, and he always seems to bring that clichéd A-game every time. And, unlike Crosby, Staal is not touted as "arguably the best player in hockey," "the face of hockey," and a superstar. And, if Crosby is really and truly a superstar, he needs to start acting like it.
Superstars rise to the occasion, the challenge. Lemieux comes back from cancer and leads his team to the playoffs. Michael Jordan has a flu, his father has just died, and he wins another NBA championship. Kobe Bryant beats rape charges and some devastating Shaq rhymes ("Tell me how my ass tastes") to win an NBA championship. Joe Montana, John Elway win comeback after comeback after comeback.
These are the things great athletes do. They don't hide behind the efforts of their lesser talented teammates. They lead them on. And they've got that fire. When those men were determined, you could see it in their eyes. And their opponents trembled. When Sid's behind the eight ball and his team needs him, it always looks like he's about to cry. And the league laughs.
As I said, Sid's young. Perhaps he and the rest of the younger Pens got too much too quickly with that Cup victory last year. It's much like Big Ben. When the Steelers lost the AFC Championship to the Patriots his rookie season, he turned to Jerome Bettis, who had a Hall of Fame career and no Super Bowl appearances, and told him not to retire because they'd go on and win the Super Bowl next season. And the bastard did it, his second season in the NFL. He's been a head case ever since.
I pray to God Crosby won't feel the need to pin drunk, underaged co-eds in the bathroom and do hell-knows-what. But I also pray that he starts earning all the accolades that are heaped upon him. He's got a lot of time left. But I just don't to have him end up being another Peyton Manning.