COLUMN: The Sky is Dark Without the Stars

The Washington Capitals once faced a 3-1 series deficit that has quickly evaporated. They have now forced a game seven that will take place on Wednesday in Washington. That is fact.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the savior that was largely why they won three of the first four, is at fault for Monday night’s loss. That is just plain wrong.

The Penguins performance over the last two games has been their worst two game stretch under head coach Mike Sullivan. If you disagree with that, you are just uneducated in the field of hockey. This team played probably it’s worse game in that stretch in game six.

They watched as Washington bombarded Fleury with shots. They watched as Evgeny Kuznetzov just dominated every sequence of this game unlike he did last year. The Capitals won the President’s Trophy for the second consecutive year. They’re a good hockey club and they truthfully have been the better team this series. Tonight was just another inclination.

Losing a playoff series is a dark place to go to after such an “easy” playoff run for the Penguins last season. The stars of the team are going to make it even darker.

Game six was pathetic. Sidney Crosby came away with an assist and took over the all-time lead in Pittsburgh history for assists in the playoffs. Aside from being abused, Crosby has been quiet in his return from a concussion. I’m not as concerned with him. The Capitals are doing everything they can to make him a non-factor and it’s really working well.

Sorry, Evgeni Malkin. The same can’t be said for you.

Malkin, the NHL’s playoff leader in points, has truthfully been bad. Sure, he had a lot of points against Columbus. Sure, he has three goals in this series. But the constant turnovers have just been unbearable to watch. The laziness that has been tagged to his name over the years has been incresingly noticeable.

Phil Kessel, I’m looking at you, too.

What happened to the Kessel that shows up in the playoffs? Because of this is the Kessel I’m paying $6.8 million to, I’ll gladly attribute that money elsewhere. It’s becoming glaringly evident why Kessel’s welcome gets worn out on his other teams. He just doesn’t look hungry enough, something that hasn’t been a struggle for him before.

It’s tough to win games missing Kris Letang. You can’t replace someone who averaged 29 minutes a game in the postseason during 2016’s Cup run. When Trevor Daley is hurt, it becomes even harder.

That is where Sullivan’s name comes in to play.

Sullivan has done nothing but positive things for Pittsburgh. But if you try and tell me that he doesn’t have a hand in what happened Monday night, in Pittsburgh nonetheless, may the Lord help you.

Sullivan changed the lines up putting a struggling Conor Sheary back on the top line with Crosby and Patric Hornqvist. He reinstalled the HBK line, which has proven to be pretty bad in multiple other reunions throughout this campaign. He took Jake Guentzel, the NHL’s leader in goals scored for the postseason, off of Crosby’s line. And instead of using a seasoned veteran like Mark Streit in game six to replace Daley, he went with Chad Ruhwedel. Ruhwedel played his first ever playoff game.

Here’s the biggest pet peeve of them all: Braden Holtby has been so unbelievably bad this series and the Penguins haven’t taken advantage of it.

He has had to face 21, 14, 30, 18, 22, and 18 shots respectively. He’s given up 2 or more goals in EVERY game. He owns a 7-5-0 record with a 2.49 GAA and a .908 SV%. This is a guy one year removed from winning the Vezina Trophy and the same one who was nominated to do so again this season. That doesn’t scream “top three goalie in the league” to me. He hasn’t even looked good doing it.

His two goals allowed may have been in garbage time tonight with the Capitals already leading 5-2, but it just goes to show that he is lackadaisical and can be beaten.

This column may sound like sour apples from a Penguins fan who just watched the flattest performance from their team in a long time. I’m sorry, but they’re going to need these guys in game seven. Their road gets clearer if they can get by Washington and I don’t think anyone can dispute that. But they’ve got to get through them first.

Start strong. Finish stronger. Win the series. It’s that simple and they’ll need to get the help from the stars to light up that sky we all know the Penguins can reach.

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