Pens Still Have Some Concerns Going Into the Playoffs @MadChad412 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pens Still Have Some Concerns Going Into the Playoffs @MadChad412

The Stanley Cup playoffs are finally here, and number one seed  Pittsburgh Penguins will host the New York Islanders Wednesday night in game one. The Penguins have been a juggernaut this year despite being plagued by injuries to some of their key players. The Pens are the most popular pick to win the cup by odds-makers and fans and with good reason. But they've been the favorite to win it all in the past three years and they only have one playoff series victory in that same stretch.

The biggest reason behind the Pens' lack of playoff success over the past three seasons has come down to defensive breakdowns, bad goaltending taking bad penalties, and poor penaty-killing. The Pens have had enough talent to win it all the last three seasons, and this year is no different. If anything, this might be the most complete Pens' team put together since the 1992-1993 season. But as recent history has shown us, talent isn't everything. The Pens can lose in any round, especially if their defense, penalty-kill, coaching, or goaltending falter again.

Every team has an achilles' heel and the Pens are no different.

Penalty Kill-Penalties 

The Pens only statistical concern is their penalty kill. The Pens took the eight most minor penalties during the regular season which shows a lack of composure and some laziness at times. The Pens expect to win every game and even in the past they have allowed the opposing teams to take them out of their game.

The Pens' main goal is to possess the puck and score goals. Taking penalties and being short-handed does not help you achieve that goal. Last year the Flyers scored 12 power-play goals against the Pens in their six game series over the Pens. The Pens' penalty-kill percentage was a whopping 47.8%, worst in the entire playoffs.
The Islanders have a good power-play (11th overall) led by superstar John Tavares. The Islanders scored a pair of goals against the Pens in their January defeat over Pittsburgh and I can see a game this series going like that at least once. Pens take too many penalties leading to too many power-play opportunity for the young-gunning Islanders.
The Pens need to shore up their PK if they want to win a cup. The last three Stanley Cup champions all finished the postseason with a PK % of 83.3 or better. As you can see above, the Pens finished with the sixth worst PK in the NHL. The Pens have played a quite a few games this season where they took an astronomical amount of penalties. You can't win a championship like that. They  need to stay out of the damn box as much as possible.

The Pens are an offensive based team. They have four different players that have scored 40 or more goals in this league, including two guys (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin) that have won the Art Ross trophy as league scoring leader. The Pens led the league in total goals scored during the regular season. When you have a team like that, with so much talent, someone has to get blamed when they lose. That person is usually the goaltender, usually being Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury's play and the team's overall defensive lapses were the main reasons the Pens lost to the Flyers in the playoffs last year. Fleury was bad to say the least. Fleury allowed 26 goals in just six games, finishing the series with an abysmal .834 save percentage, and a lousy 4.63 goals-against-average. To quote the movie "Goon", Fleury "couldn't even stop a fucking beach ball". In the only defense you can make for Fleury, the Pens' defense (especially Paul Martin) was as bad as Fleury.

Fleury has made his career on big saves at the right time. In the 2007-2008 playoffs, the Pens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, just two wins shy of winning the cup. Fleury had Conn Smythe type numbers that year, with a 1.97 goals-against-average, and a .933 save percentage.

The very next season, Fleury helped win the cup by playing amazing in-game six and seven against the Detroit Red Wings. Fleury made "the save" on Lidstrom, but he also made an underrated save on a breakaway against Alexander Ovechkin in-game seven of the second round. Ovechkin and the Caps had tormented Fleury and the Pens defense in that series but that save was and still is vastly underrated. That goal set the tone for that game, and the Pens ended up blowing the Caps out.

Fleury is 5-8 in his last two playoff series, and the Pens are 0-2 in those series, going home in the first round each of the last two seasons. The Pens pay Fleury $5 million a year and he drastically needs to get back to his "clutch" ways. I don't think anyone is expecting Fleury to be Patrick Roy or Martin Broduer, nor does he have to be in order for the Pens to win.

But he can't be the terrible Fleury either, letting in weak goals, and making the Pens play a shootout every single night. That's not how the cup will be won. Remember, the Pens won both of the last two games in 08-09 Stanley Cup finals by a score of 2-1.

Another interesting thing to think about is backup goalie Tomas Vokoun. I don't think Dan Bylsma would hesitate for a second to pull Fleury because of Vokoun. Vokoun truly gives the Pens a big-time insurance policy in net. Vokoun has been a great backup and if Fleury plays like bad for two games in a row, I would expect to see Vokoun.

Fleury's success often gets him a pass, and most times it should. Fleury gets blamed for every goal and every loss that he plays in. I can see Fleury letting in a goal early in game one against the Islanders and everyone going "Here we go again". Fleury's play in this postseason will go along with in determining his future in Pittsburgh.

The defense has to help him out as well. The Pens play a style of hockey that usually trades scoring chances with their opponent, thus sometimes leaving Fleury out to dry. This has been the case the last three years in the playoffs, hence the $5 million a-year deal for Paul Martin and the acquisition of henchman Douglas Murray.

In the end I  think Fleury will show up for the Pens and in a good way. He really has to, as does the defense, and the penalty-kill. It takes all of those ingredients, to go with the all-star caliber team that general manager Ray Shero has put together to win the cup.

I like the Pens in five overall New York and I like the Pens to beat Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals.

In Fleury I trust, because it's the cup. Go Pens.

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