Sunday, May 25, 2008

All I Can Say Is Wow. And Ouch.

I'm not sure if you noticed this while watching Games 1 and 2, but Detroit is good. Really good. Really, really good. And on top of that, everything that they're good at is an exact countermeasure for the Penguins' attack. It's shaping up to be quite a problem. Right now, the Penguins look like the first natives to find out the Europeans had guns.

In Game 1, the Penguins carried the first period and had great pressure, but nothing went in. Had I known that was such a clear harbinger for the next five periods, I would've been more concerned at the time. Fleury was, say, a little nervous. He tripped coming onto the ice and dropped an easy glove save that led to Big Ben striking two. And he misplayed Samuelsson on the first goal.

Going 0-4 on the power play in the first period was not exactly helpful. A goal or two there and we're already looking at a different series. Or during that third period power play, making it 2-1 instead of 3-0 would've been somewhat helpful.

So, okay. They lost Game 1. I watched it at a barbecue and you could charitably say that I was the only person that wanted to watch hockey. Most people didn't and some didn't even realize hockey was a televised sport. It created a lot of fun conversations about the type of person that would dominate a television during a party at somebody else's abode and, all in all, Saturday night was a double burn. About the only positive was that our strawberry basil sorbet was the runaway smash hit of the gathering to the point where people were advising us how to set up a corporation. But as I laid me down to sleep, I was thinking that I wouldn't be concerned until they lost Game 2.

This morning, of course, I'm thinking I won't be concerned until they lose Game 3. Clearly, if the Pens can defend the unopening dome in the next two games, it's a brand new series and Games 1 and 2 are rendered moot. The chances of that happening, though, are...uh...let's just say they're up in the air.

The biggest problem for the Penguins so far is that Detroit plays defense in a different part of the ice than we're used to. Every other team backs off to their blue line which either allows Crosby and Malkin to get a full head of steam, or allows the defense to start the rush with a long breakout pass. Detroit, however, plays defense at our blue line and the red line. Every single one of Kronwall's big hits comes within 10 feet of the opponent's blue line as he drills a wing looking down at a breakout pass. A wing that is most definitely not expecting a crushing shoulder right at that moment. Even if he leaves his feet on every hit, it's effective.

Our guys are simply not used to such an aggressive forecheck so far up the ice and it's simply killing our transition game. We can't get out of our zone, we can't get through the neutral zone and we can't get into the offensive zone and there is a Detroit stick in every single passing lane we want to use. Other than that, the attack is clicking. The people who thought Detroit's defense would be too much for Pittsburgh are looking smart right now and the people who didn't are looking not so smart.

And yet...and optimist sees how we could've won both games. Detroit is limiting our shots to a remarkable degree, but when we do manage to squeeze one off, we're just missing plays by 6 to 12 inches. Or else Osgood is making the timely save. The Penguins have yet to get that crazy bounce that goes into the net. The Detroit offense is decent, but not overwhelming and Fleury served up a couple of easy ones.

And the worst part of all of this - the WORST! - is that Detroit's players and fans aren't very much hateable. One can't even work up a good mouth foam when thinking about them. So instead of channeling the frustration of the first two games into a nice rage which would burn so hot and feel so good, the best I can manage is begrudging respect and lots of malaise. Ugh.

It's too early to write the season off. Game 3 has to be played first. But when and if we are ready to write the series off, here's a sneak preview of the plot: Crosby's ankle is still definitely hurt and we'll learn that in the summer, Malkin is out of gas and, as others have pointed out, Gretzky's Oilers lost in their first trip to the finals too.

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