Saturday, May 25, 2013

Halfway to Heaven

Ok my fellow yinzers, our beloved flightless birds have now won two playoff series, and await what is likely to be the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Confernce Finals unless the Rags can pull off a miracle.  Here is to hoping they at least extend the series a game or two.  I don't know about you, but the Penguins early exits in recent post seasons has me out of practice for this marathon.  Is it me, or does it feel like they were in two tough back and forth battes?  In reality, they are 8-2, and were never in any real danger of elimination.  Maybe recent history played a part in that feeling, or the fact that Marc Andre Fleury was chased seven games ago, but man, I am not sure I could live through a six or seven game series, or one where we fell behind, though in 2009, I very much believed in the Penguins in both the Caps and Red Wings series' even when they fell behind two games to none.  I hope to get that swagger back for this playoff run, my life may depend on it!  Instead of blowing up my Facebook page with all of the ramblings in my head, I figured I would take our halfway point in the March to the Cup to put most of my thoughts in one place.  First and foremost, Ray Shero, you are the best GM in all of sports.  All of the late season acquisitions have performed pretty much as expected in this post season.  I know, some are a bit disappointed in Morrow, but he has done okay, and has been coming on late in this series.  He will be very valuable in the Bruins series in my opinion.  Murray has been the shot blocking monster he is supposed to be, Iginla has more than a point per game, and Juicy has added depth and versatility to a lineup that is tough to crack, but he has delivered when called upon.  Now to give a recap of the statistical performance of the Penguins that I find interesting.  First, if you look at playoff points leaders, after David Krejci of Boston who has 17 points to lead the league, the Penguins fill out the remaining positions of the top 5 with Malkin, Letang, Crosby, and Iginla in that order having 16, 16, 15, and 12 points.  The Pens boast 4 of the top 5 scorers in the post season.  Crosby and Dupuis are tied for the league lead in goals with 7, and James Neal is coming on like a freight train right behind with 6 goals, giving Pittsburgh 3 of the top 5 goal scorers in the playoffs.  Neal in fact has 5 goals and 2 assists in his past TWO games after a rather sluggish start to his post season.  As far as netminding, despite not starting the first 3 games, Tomas Vokoun is second in wins in the NHL after a three way tie for first between Lundqvist, Rask, and Quick.  If not for a mind numbing display of stupidity by the Malkin, Kunitz, Letang, and frankly Byslma in the waning seconds of game 4, Vokoun would be tied for first in wins despite playing 3 less games than the leaders.  He also boasts a 1.85 goals against and a .941 save percentage putting him in the top 3 in both categories amongst playoff goaltenders.  I would say Shero's move there is paying the proper dividends no?  Kris Letang leads the NHL in assists in the playoffs with 13, while Geno is right behind him with 12 assists.  Letang also leads the NHL in plus/minus at a plus 7.  That is truly amazing given the number of goals he has been on the ice for, and speaks volumes about his ability to just take over games when he is on.  For example, he looked pitiful in the first period plus of game four, directly contributing to both Ottawa goals scored early.  Then he took over the game, getting 4 assists, followed by a goal and 2 assists last night.  So in the last five periods of play, Letang has added 7 points, while also playing sound defense. 



Daniel Alfredsson took a lot of heat for referring to the thought that his Sens would have a tough time recovering for their 3-1 deficit in the series due to the depth and skill of the Penguins.  Well, the Penguins have five players who have MORE than a point per game in these playoffs including Malkin, Letang, Crosby, Iginla, and Neal.  Also Dupuis, Kunitz, and Martin are flirting with a point per game.  Umm, that would be what they call scoring balance!  As for team statistics, the Penguins still have the most goals per game of the remaining playoff teams at 4.27 goals per game, and the worst goals against per game at 2.54.  I am hopeful that the Pens can work a bit on the goals against, but when you score more than 4 and allow less than 3, it is still a pretty good goal differential.  Special teams have been a positive for Pittsburgh, with the power play tops in the league, clicking at 28.3% and the Penalty Kill second only to Chicago at 89.7%.  That is a combination of special teams stats that could net you the Cup.  One caution about the stunning special teams play is that the Penguins have also given up 3 short handed goals, the most in the league for the playoffs.  That is an area that needs to be locked down going forward. 

Another note to consider going forward is that Pittsburgh is 8-1 in their past nine games against both Boston and New York, so they have been a bit of match up nightmare for both clubs. What does that all mean?  Probably nothing, as each series is a different animal, and the playoffs are FAR different than regular season games.  That said, it seems as if the Penguins are taking advantage of the depth they can bring to a series to eventually wear an opponent down. Vokoun is making the saves he needs to make, and even after a softie or two in the middle of this series, he always made the saves he needed to make.  What's more is the fact the Penguins also have guys like Brandon Sutter, Brendan Morrow,  and Tyler Kennedy who may not always show up on the score sheet, but tend to do so with BIG goals when they do. The Pens will most likely face Boston in the Conference Finals next week, and the Bruins sure do look like a handful right now.  I was wavering on the Penguins chances against Boston, but I need to remember how a seven game SERIES can unfold with a cumulative effect of a team who can roll out the kind of depth of scoring and toughness that Pittsburgh can.  I am warming to the idea of Pittsburgh returning to the Stanley Cup Finals after a tough 6 game series with Boston.

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