In an 82 game season, you have time to wait for panic to set in. In a 48 game season, your finger is on the panic button 24/7. Earlier this week, Flyers and Rangers fans had their panic moments. Injuries from key players. Poor play. Defensive collapses. It was a nightmare beginning for two of the league’s top teams.
The Pens started the season in the inverse, with strong puck possession, rock solid goaltending, and reliable defensemen.
In all honesty, if you want to really analyze this, the collapse started in game 2 when the Pens passing got sloppy. Since Sunday, passing has been a major issue. It’s erratic and there is simply too much of it. Players are missing passes and passing the puck when they have prime scoring opportunities in front of them, especially on breakaway chances.
I’m going to keep this short and to the point. We all know what the problems are.
1. Passing- which I just covered above.
2. Turnovers- Turnovers are killing the Pens. Evgeni Malkin, Eric Tangradi, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang are just a few in this guilty party of allowing turnovers that are turning into goals for their opponents.
3. The Neutral Zone- The Pens are having issues getting through the neutral zone and maintaining control. In the first period, the Pens come out blazing. They have speed, they’re forechecking, and making smart decisions and analyzing their choices on the play instead of panicking or just watching the puck and not making a move. The Jets had their number tonight and made sure they controlled the puck, breaking up the Pens’ rushes. This game had so much back and forth but it seemed as soon as the Pens got control of the puck, they got jammed up in the neutral zone and the Jets would grab the puck and head back on the attack.
4. Defense- From everyone. Vokoun and Fleury have been largely on their own. I wouldn’t even dare blame either goalie in the least for the last two games. They did all they could. The goalies are the LAST line of defense, not the first. When their team isn’t covering and the opposition is rushing at them on breakaways, there is only so much of a chance that they will make the save.
5. Shooting the puck- I hate to go there, but Tangradi, Sutter, Malkin, and Neal all missed on some major scoring opportunities because they either passed the puck or just stared at it. There has been an absence in secondary scoring the past two games. Secondary scoring is what put the Pens on a hot streak through last February and March prior to Sid’s second return. You cannot rely on Sid, Geno, and Neal to score all of the goals and you certainly cannot cower in fear instead of throwing the puck at the net.
It’s not quite time to panic yet, but the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting new results. Dan Bylsma is repeating the same mistakes and expecting new results.
The Jets were a bigger team. Tonight would have been a good night to sit Despres and instead of putting in Ben Lovejoy, giving Robert Bortuzzo a chance. Bortuzzo is a big guy. Good, pure defenseman and a hard hitter. Moving Tyler Kennedy up and demoting Eric Tangradi down were good moves, as TK has honestly been playing good hockey thus far this season. He has earned some time on the top lines, which still allows Cooke and Sutter to remain together. Their chemistry and backchecking and forechecking is necessary for this team to succeed.
The Pens have tomorrow off before playing in Ottawa on Sunday. Bylsma needs to figure this out with his team. Playing the nice guy, fun loving coach isn’t working anymore. These guys could use a heavy hand and some consistency. Line juggling is necessary to find the best chemistry on the team, but in a season that is so short and where every single period counts, stick with what you KNOW works.
At the very least, if they are going to try moving around lines, it may be time to give Beau Bennett a try on Crosby’s line in a game against a less aggressive opponent to see how things jive.
Also, Mark Eaton should be brought up as well in my opinion and Despres sent back to WBS until he can get his head right. We saw flashes of the player that we hoped Despres would be and know he can be last season, but he isn’t totally there yet. He looks nervous and unsure of himself. Eaton is a guy who maintains his composure under pressure.
On an unrelated (maybe slightly related) note, how great are Jets fans? I’ve been to probably 20-25 games since Consol opened and have yet to be at ONE game (3 were playoff games) that could hold a candle to the Jets crowd tonight or on any night of the week. Wake up fans. THAT was an atmosphere to cherish and that helps make this sport so great.