Tag Archives: 2017 Stanley Cup Champions

COLUMN: The Non-Move That Won The Pens A Cup

Let me start by saying that Sidney Crosby is deserving of the Conn Smythe. I do believe it should’ve gone to Evgeni Malkin but Crosby was just about as equally deserving.

But let’s make no mistake about it, had it been possible to give the Conn Smythe to a split tandem of Pittsburgh goaltenders, there’s no doubt in my mind they were the club’s most valuable players.

Without Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins don’t beat Washington. They probably squeak by Columbus with an average backup goalie because they were simply the better team. The game seven shutout of Washington in the second round was about as disheartening to a fan base as the inevitable Fleury trade will be for this one. He carried that momentum two games into the Ottawa series, then things went south.

A bad nine minutes in game three, where he allowed four goals on nine shots, will soon turn into the final outing that Fleury had as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Let me remind you, Fleury is considered the back up.

So, when the starter got his chance, he wasn’t going to look back.

Matt Murray was very good over the final four and a half games of the Eastern Conference Finals. He faced barrages from the Senators and battled tooth and nail with embattled Senators goalie Craig Anderson for a victory in seven games.

Murray took on the Cinderella story from Nashville. He opposed Pekka Rinne, a leader for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Finals, and thoroughly played better. The Penguins made Rinne look silly on several occasions. Although it seemed that mid-series that the Predators had figured Murray out, Mike Sullivan‘s confidence didn’t waiver. He stuck it out with Murray who repaid the coach with, not one, but TWO shutouts in the final two games of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Murray is still considered a rookie. He is the only player in NHL history to win two Cups as a rookie. While this comes on sort of a technicality, it doesn’t downplay the magnitude of him spearheading two Stanley Cup championships. Who’s to say the Penguins would or wouldn’t be in this situation today had Murray not hurt his groin in the pregame of the game one of the Blue Jackets series?

But that wasn’t the case. Fleury stepped in and did an admirable job. One that Tristan Jarry simply wouldn’t have been able to do.

Credit Jim Rutherford for that one.

As trade deadline day approached, an unsettling feeling grew within the stomach of Marc-Andre Fleury. He was drafted by the Penguins in 2003 and has played his entire career to this point with Pittsburgh. The rumors ran rampant that he’d be moved to another team as his trade value seemed to be plummeting ever so quickly after his truthfully horrible regular season.

Rutherford surprised everyone and stuck to his guns saying that it’s never a bad thing to have two goalies of the caliber that Murray and Fleury are. Rutherford wants to keep both goalies. It’s practically impossible at this point.

The impending Vegas Golden Knights franchise will be drafting in a few weeks to assemble their team for the upcoming year and Fleury is undoubtedly on their radar. After his playoff performance, he’ll be on a few other teams’ radar.

As I mentioned before, the Penguins don’t beat Washington without Fleury. It doesn’t happen. He was spot on against Alex Ovechkin and outdueled Braden Holtby with no reason to look over his shoulder.

Rutherford not moving Fleury is a credit to Rutherford’s intelligence as a general manager. It’s a huge reason why the Penguins repeated as Stanley Cup champions and why they have a legitmate shot to win yet again in 2018.

Pens In Need of A Bounce Back

Not often will a team that played one of it’s worst games of the season come out victorious. That’s exactly what the Penguins did Monday night. If the Penguins want to win Wednesday, they will absolutely have to be better.

They went 37 consecutive minutes without a shot on goal and were sloppy in their zone entries. They allowed Matt Murray to be tested more often than they would’ve preferred without a doubt. So where do they go from here?

This Mike Sullivan led team does not lose consecutive games. It’s in their DNA to avoid being unacceptingly horrific in two straight contests. They just won’t accept it.

Sullivan kept reiterating the lack of pushback from his team in his postgame conference after game one and how the Penguins were unable to do so when the Predators went on attack.

“When you’re playing a team like Nashville that has a balanced attack, you’ve got to have some pushback. I don’t think in the second period we had any pushback.”

He’s right.

As the Penguins somehow tip-toed out of a shotless second period, the first in the franchise’s history, only allowing one goal after a three goal onslaught in period one, it became increasingly clear that the Penguins couldn’t cling to the lead much longer. The Predators then tied the game accordingly until Jake Guentzel, a near scratch before Monday, and buried a laser in behind Nashville goalie, Pekka Rinne, who was absolutely abysmal in that game.

It’s very likely the Penguins won’t see this bad of a Rinne and this lackluster of a Predators team the rest of the series. They will need to be better and, if they are, the Penguins should be in the driver’s seat comfortably heading into Nashville.

Phil Kessel Comes To Life

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It’s convenient to wait until the day after Phil Kessel scored the only goal of a 1-0 win to write an article defending him.

There’s been one thing I’ve seen from Kessel very recently that I don’t like, and it’s how he lays out on the boards, head buried in his arms. It made me wonder if he was off a little.

However, his emotion and passion is awesome. Yelling at his teamates a little is great. He wants things to be better. We all do. Evgeni Malkin has looked sluggish at times, so why can’t Phil say something? I know the obvious answer is because he’s not doing everything right either so how can he call anyone else out. But here’s the thing about Phil Kessel: he knows his role.

A super sniper like Kessel plays on the second or third line, and sits on the number one power play unit (Washington could learn a thing or two about how a winning team handles big name snipers). He’s there for one reason. That reason isn’t to back check. That reason isn’t to block shots. That reason isn’t to throw big hits. It’s to score goals. Period.

Now, Kessel learned last year theres more to hockey than scoring. There’s winning too. The best way to win is to back check, block shots, and throw some hits. He does all those things too. But that’s just a bonus. His spot in the roster and his role on his line is to finish. If the passes aren’t coming, he can’t do his job. He wants help and he’s making it clear.

There’s one important thing to remember as well: even with a goal scoring role, because of the makeup of the Penguins there isn’t one player that needs to score all the time. He doesn’t need to be consistent and carry the team. He just needs to chip in once in a while. That’s the beauty of a deep team.

Fans have been spoiled for too long by having everyone scoring at the same time. The Penguins averaged over 4 goals game for half the season. But really, they only need one or two players at a time to be really on.

Conor Sheary was hot in the first half of the season, for example. Malkin was a beast midway through. Sidney Crosby got really hot down the stretch. Into the playoffs Jake Guentzel started out as the animal. Patric Hornqvist stepped up with a big goal in Game 7 against Washington. Kessel stepped up with a big goal last game. He’s taking his turn and that’s all they need.

These ramblings on the bench aren’t a rant from some whiny farm boy begging Uncle Owen to let him go into town and buy some power converters. This is a top NHL goal scorer trying to make things better.

I know the way to close a Pittsburgh sports fan’s mind is to use Tom Brady as an example of something to aspire to, but how many championships has that guy won? He expects the most out of his teammates. He yells and hollers at them and he’s the first one to tell them when they need to be better.

I’m not comparing Phil Kessel to Brady as far as the level of dominance in their sports, or even on the same level of respect from team mates. But it’s the passion. It’s the fire. It’s blazing full force. This isn’t something Kessel normally does so now that he’s done it, instead of putting him down and calling him out, I think he’s earned having his team (and fans) taking another look and asking why is he doing this now.

To get that answer, maybe a better comparison would be Patric Hornqvist. Should he have been kicked off the team last playoff season when he blew a gasket at no less than Sidney Crosby on the bench twice a game?

The playoffs are an emotional ride. Columbus and Washington were both extremely easy series to get invested in. If you don’t play with an edge and be the aggressor in those series, you don’t survive. And I don’t just mean you lose the series. I mean you physically get destroyed. It’s literally personally dangerous to not be on your guard and fight back at all times.

So after those gruelling rounds, you start off against a team who sits back. A team who doesn’t go looking for anything. You could easily float around in this series and never be hit. A team lulls you to sleep and doesn’t give you any energy. You have to make your own energy. That takes more work. That takes more effort. Sometimes it takes more creativity.

Athletes coax themselves into game modes in strange ways at times. When your opponent isn’t doing anything to work up a hatred, your friends can be a good substitute. Sometimes that means bench rage. That was a little bit for his fellow Pens, and some of that has nothing to do with them. He’s looking to get into the series, and it may just have worked.