Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Not Us? (Because You're Terrible, That's Why)

With the Pens wrapping up the Wales Conference finals last night, unofficially, I'd like to finally welcome Daniel Briere to the series. It only took him three games to notch a single assist. He was much more effective against Montreal when he was allowed to just stand by the goal on power plays. Hal Gill, however, has to decided to not allow that. So mean!

Maybe it's not entirely Briere's fault, though, because one of his linemates is Scottie Upshall. Every single time he goes over the boards, it's a wasted shift. He can't stickhandle, can't pass, can't shoot, lost a fight to Tyler Kennedy (the smallest guy on either team) in Game 2 and when he tried to nail Malkin with an elbow to the head last night, Malkin saw him coming and shifted away. Upshall can't even cheat well. Nice to see him on Philly's #1 line. It's nice if you dislike Philly and want to see them lose, I mean.

And nobody plays harder after the whistle than Scott Hartnell. When the referee pea rattles around, that guy comes alive. Cheap shots, face washes, punches, piling into the goalie, he's got it all. When everybody is relaxed and not paying attention, Scott Hartnell is going all out. Bobby Clarke wishes he could have 19 Scott Hartnells on his team. Sure, that team would go 10-72 every year, but Clarke would love their grit.

Do the Flyers have anybody good? At all? Which Flyers could play for the Penguins in this series? Mike Richards might be the only Flyer who could crack the Pens' top 12 forwards. Maybe Jeff Carter. Maybe. I'm not sure who Pittsburgh would sit for Carter, though. Probably nobody. We would take Jeff Carter right now and scratch him. Still, at least he'd finally be on a winning team.

But the most effective Flyer last night by far was Steve Downie. And by that, I mean effective for the Penguins. Downie had a late turnover in Game 2 that led directly to Pittsburgh's game-winning goal. But he also had one check that knocked somebody over, so coach John Stevens rewarded his effort with another chance in Game 3. And then Downie proceeded to make maybe the worst hockey play I've seen in my entire life. He had the puck 1 on 4 at the blue line and instead of flinging it deep behind the net and getting off the ice before he could hurt his team, he tried a pass across the blue line. It was such a bad pass that the Penguins drew straws to see who should pick it off and Malkin raced up ice with it. So while the second best player in the league is racing up ice with a puck that used to be his, Steve Downie kept gliding backwards until he hit the faceoff circle. Until he was literally the last man up ice except for Fleury. No need to jam on the brakes and bust back up ice when you just turned it over, I guess. Finally, Downie decided that if nine other guys were heading into the Flyer end, maybe he should too and he lazily drifted back, making sure he didn't pass Sarge Gonch or anything. He was still in the neutral zone when Pittsburgh was peppering Biron with the puck. The puck that used to be Downie's. He finally decided to get involved in the play and did so in classic Flyer style by drilling Petr Sykora from the blind side three seconds after Sykora shot the puck. One second after the puck, Downie's puck, was in the net. Sykora was hurt because, get this, he wasn't anticipating a late charge. But Sykora later returned to the ice. Downie didn't. And won't, for the rest of the season. Still, Bobby Clarke didn't mind the late hit. He's thinking about trading Briere (too small and faggy) for Jordin Tootoo and rolling out a #1 line of Downie-Tootoo-Hartnell next season. Intimidation factor five!

Great coaching by John Stevens there, sending Downie over the boards in the last ten minutes of a one goal game. The same guy had two back breaking turnovers in consecutive games, with only about eight minutes of cumulative ice time. Talk about knowing your team! Then again, if Stevens scratches Downie, who does he put in his place? Riley Cote? Tim Kerr?

You know, everybody says the Flyers are so rough and tough and mean, but I thought it was really polite the way they absolutely curled up and died after the third goal. We all knew the series was over at that point, so why spend the last eight minutes of the game skating hard and working for pucks and trying and stuff? You do that and somebody could get hurt!

But enough about the Flyers' terribleness, because we could literally talk about that all day and all night. Marian Hossa maybe played his best game of the playoffs, and that's saying something. I am totally and completely saying something right there. It's too early yet to do anything but hope Hossa comes back next year, but if he does, it's entirely possible the Penguins will have three 100-point scorers next year. The last team to do that was the...um...hold on...let me pretend to look this up...the '95-'96 Penguins. Lemieux had 161, Jagr had 149 and Francis had 119. Petr Medved had an incredibly disappointing 99 points. Sorry, Nedved. I only remember the names of 100 point scorers.

If you want to get into hyperbole, it's possible a Pens PP of Gonchar, Hossa, Crosby, Malkin and an empty bucket thrown on the ice could convert around 50% of their chances. By December, the league would adjust the rule so Pens power play goals only counted as a half goal. It would be too much of an advantage.

Oh god, please come back, Marian Hossa. $4 million a year is still a lot of money, especially in a city with one of the lowest costs of living in the U.S. In fact, it's equal to a $7.27 million offer from the Kings. Plus, the Kings are terrible. And being a Slovak, maybe you'd be interested to know that the original charter for Czechoslovakia was signed in Pittsburgh. It's true! I think the plaque commemorating that glorious moment is somewhere around Sixth and Penn. By the Benedum. You can't miss it! And I promise you, somewhere in East Liberty, an 85-year old woman knows how to make your favorite Slovak cookie with a 200-year old recipe. It'll be just like home. She even has a jar of salted beet juice, just like your grandma did!

Oh, also, I'm glad to see Ruutu didn't pick up any silly penalties like two for receiving. How you give a guy a diving call for getting punched in the face is beyond me. Basically, the official is saying, "I don't like your tactics, sir, and I'm not going to reward them. I can't ignore that fist to the chops you just absorbed, so I'm gonna give you two for unsportsmanlike and we'll play 4 on 4." It's really a preposterous job of officiating, even by the famously loose NHL standards.

So I guess that's that as far as the Battle of the Keystone State is concerned. Can the league change things to approve three game sweeps? Like, say, when a team has 12-5 goal advantage? Philly isn't going to try in Game 4, we need to get ready for Detroit, there's no need to see another Derian Hatcher hooking penalty before summer, why waste our time?