Round Two Playoff Roundtable
As always, thanks to the writers that agree to participate with us for taking time out of their busy playoff schedules to join us for a thorough discussion about this series.
As always, we ask five questions and compare the answers of everyone. I would encourage all our readers to bookmark these sites if you haven’t already and follow each and every one of these writers on Twitter.
tPB Adam of The Pensblog
Nick Richter of The PensNation
Sean Leahy of Yahoo’s! Puck Daddy
Tecmo of PSAMP
Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers
Jimmy Rixner of Pensburgh
Tony Ferrante of The Confluence
Eric Majeski of Lets Go Pens
Ian Altenbaugh of Hockey’s Future
Let’s get started.
1. If you’re head coach Dan Bylsma, what do you do with the goaltending situation in Pittsburgh and who starts Game 1 against the Senators?
Majeski: I see valid arguments for both and I’m fine with whomever is in net, but if it’s up to me, I go back to Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s your #1 and you’ll need him to have a long run. Fleury lost the net due to his own problems, but he also had a lot of help. Both goalies pitched a shutout when the team played smart, simple hockey and both won in overtime when they played brain-dead. Plus, you know you can go back to Vokoun if needed.
Colligan: I’m shocked at how much I’ve been hearing Marc-Andre Fleury as even a possibility. This isn’t even up for debate in my mind. When Vokoun was acquired and signed last summer, it was a move that was out of the norm for the Pens front office. No matter how good Vokoun is, you don’t sign a backup to a $2 million multi-year deal (when they’ll be tight against the cap next year) unless there are other factors in play. GM Shero demands accountability at every level of the organization. I have nothing against Fleury, but what has he done to EARN a Game 1 start? Vokoun may have very well saved the Penguins from a monumental upset. He’s earned the job. Going back to Fleury in this spot would undermine Bylsma and Shero’s entire philosophy.
Tecmo: Fleury and I don’t care how unpopular the decision is. MAF is the goalie. Vokoun was brought in as a backup and he knows this better than everyone in Pittsburgh who asks this question every time a backup has a nice win or two. The Pens were a meager 3-3 early this season when Vokoun stepped in with a big shutout against the Rangers. People did this same song and dance then…“maybe Tomas should be the starter.” Only Bylsma knows the deal, the goalies know the deal, and MAF should be in net Game 1 against the Senators. Short leash on him? Heck yeah. But he’s still out there.
Leahy: At this point, you ride Tomas Vokoun until he stumbles mightily, if that even happens. Marc-Andre Fleury was given four games to put the last few postseasons out of his mind, but he failed to do so. The reason why GM Ray Shero went out and got Vokoun was for this exact situation. This isn’t Bylsma turning to some second-string young kid. He’s going to a long-time NHL veteran who’s proven his worth to own the Penguins’ crease going forward.
Rixner: With the precursor that Bylsma likes Fleury’s current mental/emotional state, I’d go to Fleury in Game 1. Vokoun turns 37 in a few months and has a checkered injury history. With due respect considering he saved the Pens season, Vokoun probably isn’t going to succeed playing every game for a long period of time. I could be proven wrong, but I don’t see him as a workhorse who will keep a high level of play for the rest of the playoffs.
Taking that into account, playing Fleury also gives him some confidence and gives him yet another chance to get it done AND it keeps Vokoun fresh for if they need to turn to him (again), should Fleury crumble (again). We’ve seen before in 2008 and 2009, MAF was the Pens best player on many nights. He can’t live off that reputation forever, but I think it has benefits to try and give him every opportunity, because he is the starting goalie. It should be a short leash, no doubt, but Fleury deserves another chance in Game 1.
Altenbaugh: Marc-Andre Fleury should start game one. Bylsma is tasked with having to send the message that good work is rewarded to his team, but at the same time he has to operate within the reality that, despite some shakiness in the Penguins two post-season losses, Fleury is the more talented of the two goaltenders, and if the Penguins are to win the cup, it will likely be with him playing the bulk of the starts. Plus, Fleury needs a win to get his confidence back up. If he falters once again, then DB can ride Vokoun until the wheels fall off. Plus, this is not the first time Vokoun was sat following a solid outing, and he appears mentally capable of dealing with that situation, at least better than Fleury might.
Richter: Luckily, Disco has two quality netminders he can go to if need be, but I don’t think he could go wrong either way in Game One. It’s always good to ride the “hot hand,” but I think enough time has passed that the Tomas Vokoun may not even be the hot hand anymore. We’ve also all heard the stats about Marc-Andre Fleury in rebound games. If I’m Dan Bylsma, I start Flower in Game One, but I keep him on a short leash. If Flower craps the bed, then it’s Vokoun until he shows reason otherwise.
tPB Adam: Dan Bylsma will probably start MAF in Game One. He is the number-one goalie, and they’re gonna bank on the Islanders series and the subsequent goalie change to light a fire under him. The leash will be short, though. Pens need to find a way to get the very best out of him. Hopefully Bylsma’s switch did the trick.
Ferrante: You’ve gotta stick with the hotter goalie at this point. You simply don’t have the luxury of blowing a playoff game just to see if MAF will rebound. Yes, MAF got some unlucky bounces, but some were as a result of horrible positioning. So continue to ride Vokoun until he shows signs of faltering.
2. Have the Penguins resolved their puck management concerns or is this something that still concerns you?
Majeski: Definitely still a concern for me. They only played up to their capabilities in Games 1 and 5. The other 4 games were a mess. It was like Will Smith hit the whole squad with a Neuralyzer after each shutout win they had. Maybe Dana Heinze needs to outfit everyone with a pair of Ray-Bans.
Colligan: Here’s the thing, were the Penguins actually that bad at puck management, or were the Islanders that good at forcing turnovers? I’m leaning towards the latter. Every time the Islanders came into Pittsburgh the last two years, I left the game thinking they had a really good gameplan, but just not nearly enough talent. Unfortunately, I think Paul MacLean is a far better coach than Jack Capuano, and the Sens have more offensive talent. That concerns me.
Tecmo: Oh puck management is still a huge issue. The only thing that saves the Pens from their own hand is that they have this insane ability to turn on the offense at a moment’s notice. What was it, something like six Pens goals within two and a half minutes of an Islanders goal last series? That’s brutal for an opposing team and goalie. We saw the same issue in Game 6 again, letting in an Islanders goal and needing to come right back…and all this despite still making the same puck management mistakes along the way. The team can make up for those giveaways whenever they want, it feels like, only the concerning thing is if/when that ability dries up. The giveaways are a problem when there’s nothing else to pick up the slack, see Isles Games 2 and 4.
Leahy: The video from Games 2, 3, 4 and 6 should be analyzed and watched by every player on the team. The Islanders’ aggressive forecheck and speed forced turnovers and sloppy play, causing a lack of puck possession. If you can’t take care of the puck in your own zone, you’re going to have issues. The Penguins can’t play with fire anymore. They have to be smarter on breakout and use physicality to control possession.
Rixner: Execution is the name of the game in playoffs, if they can minimize mistakes and play smart and inspired, I won’t be concerned. The players certainly know what they need to do, it’s just a matter of executing. It doesn’t bother me, because it will either happen or it won’t, I guess at this point it’s just a matter of seeing how it goes.
Altenbaugh: Though Fleury was at times bad in the first round, the Penguins dreadful management of the puck was the primary reason the Islanders were competitive. The defense was seemingly incapable of clearing pucks away from the net and out of their zone, the forwards were unable to sustain any sort of forecheck, and the entire team was at times lost in the neutral zone. They also turned over the puck in the worst possible spots and gave up way too many odd-man rushes early on in round one.
Richter: I think we’ll see a much better Penguins team with the puck in this series. The Islanders were probably the worst opponent for the Penguins as far as puck management is concerned in the Eastern Conference. Their relentlessness on the forecheck, mixed with their team speed created nightmares for the Pens. However, if the Sens can find a way to disrupt the Pens breakout game, all bets are off.
tPB Adam: It’s too difficult to tell whether or not the Pens’ puck management has improved. You have no idea which team is gonna show up on a given night.
Ferrante: I think a good chunk of those “puck management” issues were caused by the Islanders’ relentless checking. They were in the Pens’ faces the entire series. That said, there will probably always be some sort of “Globetrotter” mentality that this group of Penguins will have. I would like to see them turn a few more of those extra passes into scoring opportunites.
3. How do the Senators win this series?
Majeski: Relentlessly forecheck the Pens, have Andersson stand on his head, and hope the Pens keep playing stupid hockey. I don’t know if Ottawa has the wheels for that and if the Pens consistently get their act together, it likely won’t matter. Injuries could be an equalizer. Malkin looks to be hampered somewhat (shoulder?) and Neal’s skating hasn’t been the same since he got back.
Colligan: By frustrating the Penguins, forcing them to take penalties, and capitalizing on the powerplay. I think Craig Anderson has the potential to ‘Halak’ the Pens and keep this series close, so it’ll come down to special teams. The Penguins’ star players not named Crosby continue to show a willingness to take penalties out of frustration. That could do them in at some point.
Tecmo: Luck. I’m not Sidney Crosby, who at the conclusion of the Isles series praised New York’s speed and skill, and then immediately complimented the same two aspects of the Senators, calling them a similar team. The Senators are not a similar team. Maybe “similar” in the fact that they both nearly missed the playoffs. But the Senators do not have the players to match up with New York’s Tavares and Co. What, is Chris Neil supposed to outscore this offense? Sure, Ottawa surprised the Canadiens…that won’t happen to Pittsburgh.
Leahy: Do the same thing the Islanders did: use speed and a forecheck to disrupt the Penguins gameplan. If the Senators do that, they can win this series, especially because Craig Anderson is leaps and bounds better than Evgeni Nabokov in net
Rixner: Craig Anderson holds the key. If he can become 2013’s Jaroslav Halak (and the high save percentage in a small sample size says he can) then lookout. Erik Karlsson with the puck on his stick is also a recipe for success for Ottawa and disaster for the Pens
Altenbaugh: The Senators are a weird mix of very young and very old players. That being said, they are built in a way that could give the Penguins fits. The Sens have a lot of big and mean players like Chris Neil, Zack Smith, Chris Phillips, Colin Greening, Eric Gryba, and others who could create matchup problems for some of the Penguins smaller forwards or less physical defensemen. They also have a stellar goaltender in Craig Anderson. In short, the Senators are the opposite of the Islanders.
Richter: In order to win this series, Ottawa needs to take a page out of the Islanders book (man, it feels weird saying that), and be relentless on the forecheck. The Sens are already one of the better teams in the NHL on the forecheck, but they’ll need to ramp it up. If they can force the Penguins into making quick decisions, they have a good opportunity to do some damage in the series. The longer they can stay in Pittsburgh’s end of the ice, keeps the Penguins snipers from being effective, thus limiting the scoring chances against that Craig Anderson sees.
tPB Adam: The Senators win this series by keeping the puck out of their own net. Their defense and goaltending largely is what got them here, and if that goes away, they are in trouble. They couldn’t do it against the Pens in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different monster.
Ferrante: They can give the Penguins a run for their money, without a doubt. Primarily, Craig Anderson will need to continue to be solid between the pipes. If he stumbles, or simply has a mediocre series, that would be trouble for the Sens. They also need scoring from their blueline by Karlsson and Gonchar. And probably the other thing I’d mention is they’ve got to stop the stupid penalties vs. the Penguins, especially Chris Neil.
4. Puck management issues aside, what as to happen for the Penguins to win this series?
Majeski: Puck management is the main thing. Staying healthy is another. If this team is 100% and they play simple, mistake-free hockey, they’ll get their chances. They have more than enough talent to finish enough of them off to win. The only team that can stop them from making the Finals is themselves.
Colligan: The Penguins need to wear the Sens defensemen down. Four lines of hard forechecking. Make Erik Karlsson go back to retrieve dumps 30 times a game. It might play into Ottawa’s hands in the early games, but it’ll give the Penguins a big advantage as the series rolls along.
Tecmo: Team composure. At moments, Travis Hamonic and the Isles made Geno and the Pens think they were playing Sean Courturier and the Flyers. The Pens are fine “getting to their game” as evidenced by that regular season. But as soon as someone throws a cheap hit or Geno gets shadowed and bottled up for a game, the team starts taking bad penalties as emotions run high. And Hamonic has nothing on the stylings of Chris Neil and the Senators crowd. Ottawa can’t match up with the Pens on paper, they will do so in other facets.
Leahy: Pittsburgh and Ottawa are the top two scoring teams in the playoffs, so the goals will come. Anderson and Vokoun will have their shares of bad nights in this series. The Penguins must stay disciplined and not allow the Senators’ power play (24 percent success rate) to capitalize. Too many times versus the Islanders did we see dumb penalties: hooking on a backcheck; retaliation; unnecessary roughing, etc. They have to be smart and not rely on their strong penalty kill to bail them out.
Rixner: Top skill continuing to shine – even if Ottawa can get Jason Spezza back from injury, their top forwards can’t hold a candle to the fire-power that Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Kunitz and Dupuis are bringing to the table. The name of the game is scoring more than the other guy, and even though the Senators will surely be tight defensively and have a top goalie, how long can they hold out? The Pens big boys, especially on the power play, have to keep the pressure up by scoring. A team can’t really trap if they’re behind a goal or two early, as we saw how games in the Islanders series played out. If the Pens can use their skill to get early leads and play out in front, games ought to come a lot easier than if Ottawa can sit back and trap and frustrate the Pens with a systematic, neutral-zone clogging, defensive mindset.
Altenbaugh: Pittsburgh needs to avoid the dumb penalties and get Ottawa to take a lot of them. The Pens took a lot of them in round one, and the fact that Cooke was seemingly penalized for his last name only compounded matters further. The Pens could use Cooke to their advantage this round, as Ottawa has not appeared to let the accident with Karlsson go. Pittsburgh also needs to break Craig Anderson. He reminds me of Semyon Varlamov in 2009, just an impenetrable wall in net. The Pens broke Varlamov and the series went their way, they’ll have to do the same with Anderson. Crash the net, put shots on constantly, and in general do the things they should’ve done in round one, but didn’t.
Richter: The Penguins just need to be the Penguins. Play the system, make adjustments when needed. Don’t get to high; don’t get to low.
tPB Adam: The Pens win this series by forcing the Senators to beat them, as opposed to the Penguins beating themselves. Give a mouse a cookie, he’s gonna want a glass of milk. If you gift the Senators some goals, they’re gonna want more.
Ferrante: A decent performance by their top six forwards would be a helluva start. Particularly James Neal needs to get on the scoresheet more. Maybe that has something to do with Geno’s condition, who knows. Vokoun and/or Fleury can’t have more than, say, two poor outings, if that. But I’d really like to see all four Penguins lines really take it to the Sens physically, and they’ve got the lineup to do it. Especially Karlsson.
5. Official series predictions?
Majeski: Who knows? If the Dr. Jekyll Pens show up, it’s hard to envision Ottawa winning a game, but if the Mr. Hyde team shows up, then flip a coin. I’ll guess Pens in 6, but if they play with brains, they should knock Ottawa out sooner than that.
Colligan: I predicted a sweep last series and then watched the Penguins get outplayed for 13 out of 18+ periods vs the Islanders. The dart I just threw landed on Pens in 7, but I won’t have a good feel until this series begins
Tecmo: Pens in 5. Ottawa, really?
Leahy: You have to think the Penguins will have learned from the Islanders series. If they don’t, this could get real ugly. I’m going to keep faith for at least one more series, but believe the Senators will put up a huge fight. Pens in 7.
Rixner: Pens in 6. Ottawa will make it a close series early by drawing energy from their Cooke-hate and team-defense/Anderson working in good rhythm right now. But the Pens eventually will claw away when their unmatched top-end skill out-scores Ottawa’s top guys. Fleury, surprisingly, bounces back and plays the whole way. (Note: 66% chance this prediction crashes and burns, but all the other scenarios aren’t pretty)
Altenbaugh: Penguins in six or seven. The Penguins would do themselves a favor by closing out this series as quickly as possible, because the longer it goes on, the more likely they are going to get Jason Spezza back in the lineup. It will be a challenge.
Richter: Penguins in Six… and Matt Cooke with four Game Winning Goals. YEAAAAAAAAH!
tPB Adam: Pens sweep. 4-0.
Ferrante: I really think this is a MUCH better matchup for the Penguins as compared to the Islanders with their speedy forwards. I think the Pens can basically neutralize the Sens’ stars, both physically and systematically. Pens in five.
Thanks again to everyone for joining us!