Here we go. A week into the playoffs and we’ve already got our first two teams headed for the gallows. And for those of you emerging from a week-long nap, shouting “Florida Panthers!” and “Washington Capitals!” Boy, are you in for a nasty surprise.
Especially if you happen to live on Canada’s West Coast.
Yup. The Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins are both facing elimination tonight. And before we try and figure out which club has the better chance at a stay of execution, let’s look at what’s gone wrong so far for these two former powerhouses:
In a word? Defense.
My lack of cable television (AKA money) coupled with being too lazy to go to a local establishment to watch these games means that I’ve been watching this series in less than superb quality on various websites that offer free live streaming of sporting events (don’t tell anyone). Usually, I have to squint at the grainy picture to guess at where the puck is if its being moved around at high speeds. Lucky for me though, in any Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game, I can be sure that the puck is one of two places:
a) the back of the net,
b) the referees pocket while both teams use the ice for a bar fight.
It’s been a wild one alright. A total of 32 goals scored in just three games. Those of you who loaded up on Penguins in your hockey pool will notice that you are doing alright despite the fact that the Pens haven’t won a game yet… Unless of course you have Marc-André Fleury.
Pittsburgh’s netminder has been a disaster so far, and if the Penguins want to limit the Flyers to less than 8 goals for once, Fleury needs to be Fleury again, in Game 4.
Well, maybe that’s a little unfair. The Canucks have run into Jonathan Quick. In the last two games of the series, Vancouver has outshot LA 48-26, and 41-20, and managed just two goals combined in those games. Part of that is Quick, who has been spectacular, another has been the absence of Daniel Sedin—which ranks at about a 7.5 on the valid excuse meter. But, as is usually the case when a team drastically outshoots their opponent and fails to outscore them, a big problem for the Canucks has been generating second and third scoring opportunities. Aside from a few pointless snow showers courtesy of Ryan Kesler, Vancouver has failed to make life difficult for Quick. That has to be high on their list of priorities for Game 4.
So, which team has the better chance of surviving tonight, and forcing a Game 5?
The answer is: Vancouver.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither team is eliminated tonight, but in order for the Penguins to beat Philadelphia, they have to commit to changing their style of play, which clearly isn’t working so far. Someone has to stand up in the dressing room and say, “Guys, this might sound crazy, but what if we try and play defense?”
I honestly don’t see that happening. The Penguins seem to have one thing in mind at all times. Scoring. So far in this series, the puck has barely left the linesman’s hand for the opening face-off before the Penguins have put it in the Flyers net.
But the Flyers are too good offensively to be beat in a track meet. So if the Penguins are to win tonight, they will need Fleury at his best, and a commitment to defense.
On the other end, one of the things Vancouver needs to win tonight, it appears they will get. And that’s Daniel Sedin back in the line-up. So Henrik can finally stop running around like a chicken with its twin brother cut off, and the Canucks can get back to scoring.
Assuming that Cory Schneider doesn’t fall asleep from a lack of action in his own end, Vancouver should get solid goaltending, so a few good bounces past Jonathan Quick could be enough to keep them alive.
Did anyone else just hear that? Was that a collective sigh from the Vancouver Police Department?
Written by Roy Herron.