Thursday, April 15, 2010

Notes from Game 1

As I tweeted before Game 1 I felt Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury would be the keys to the Penguins success in the playoffs.  In Game 1 they were the two most visible players on the team, but with very different performances.

Marc-Andre Sieve continued his run of poor play after being pulled a league high eight times this season.
  • He gave up a terrible goal late in the first period when he couldn't handle a high shot and left the rebound out front.  Chris Neal, noted more as a fighter than a scorer, controlled the puck and beat Fleury high glove side after he went down early.  This has happened repeatedly since the Olympic break.  It is worth noting that Tyler Kennedy was beaten cleanly on the draw leading to the goal after Staal was waived out of the circle.
  • On the last goal Fleury was beaten on a 2v1 when he was slow to move across the crease after a cross-ice pass.  Jarkko Ruutu beat him stick side from just inside the left dot after Fleury had come out to challenge the shooter and Eaton, the lone defenseman back, was in no position to commit to the shooter or the pass.  He got caught too far out challenging the shooter (a habit that has lead to some bad goals off the back boards during the season) and wasn't able to react well to Ruutu's shot.  Another bad goal.
This season Fleury's positioning has been weak at times and he has had trouble with his rebound control.  Throughout his career his stickhandling has added a level of excitement to the game that most Penguin fans could do without.  That was also in evidence last night.  But there is no question that Fleury has proven to be a big game goalie over the past two years.  Most impressively he has shown a tremendous ability to come up with the huge save at key moments.  He has also shown great mental toughness by being able to bounce back strongly from subpar performances.  The first of these traits was not in evidence Wednesday night.  We'll see if the other is on Friday.

Malkin on the other hand, had an excellent game, continuing a run of good play late in the season after an up and down year which saw flashes of his extraordinary talents interspersed with long stretches of middling play highlighted by the fact that he was third in the league in minor penalties despite missing 15 games.  While Sid brings it every night, Geno can be maddening with his up and down efforts.  Nonetheless he does seem to bring his best when spotlight shines brightest and he continued that last night with two goals and an assist and generally solid work at both ends of the ice.

As for the rest of the Pens, Sid was his MVP-self getting three assists and executing one of the prettiest passes you'll ever see to set up Gogo with two minutes left as the Pens made a final desperate charge.  Dupuis, Talbot, Cooke and Kennedy brought their usual effort and energy and Craig Adams scored a nice backhander over Elliot's glove side after not scoring all year.

On the downside, Ponikarovsky and Fedetenko have to contribute more.  They were both -1 and brought very little.  Defensively, Bylsma decided to switch his defensive pairings electing to put Gonchar with Orpik rather than Letang, which had been the pairing for much of the year.  But, the results were the same, with the defense giving up multiple odd-man rushes and a variety of other good scoring chances.  It's going to take a much better effort starting on Friday if they want to keep playing into May.

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