(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7 – The Rinne Haters!!!
I read and heard a lot of stuff prior to this series about “well Rinne’s bound for a letdown. His save percentage has dropped in each round.” It’s true.
But here’s the thing: .976 against Chicago. Then .932 against St. Louis. And .925 against Anaheim.
If you think him going .636 in one game in which he faced 11 damn shots is indicative of the wheels coming off, I have a catfish to sell you and a rink to throw it in.
At this point it will be difficult to not-have that save percentage for the series fall from .925, unless he pitches a couple shutouts, but Rinne has basically had three bad games in this postseason (Game 2 at St. Louis, Game 2 at Anaheim, and Game 1 in Pittsburgh). He’s still .934 overall.
And look at the goals. A 5-on-3 Evgeni Malkin bomb through a screen, a Conor Sheary shot he had no chance to stop thanks to a defensive breakdown, a bouncer off his defenseman’s knee, and a decent-but-not-great effort from Jake Guentzel after he’d spent the previous 37 minutes filling out a crossword puzzle.
I’m not willing to say he’s turned back into a pumpkin juuuuust yet.
6 – Gimme shelter
Let me tell you where the Predators really and truly lost Game 1.
Late in the first period, one shift after the Penguins scored their opening goal, there was a TV timeout after Nashville successfully killed off that 5-on-3 power play James Neal caused by being a big ol’ idiot (more on that in a second).
Coming out of that PK situation, in which Peter Laviolette was forced to deploy his two big pairings, he was similarly forced to put his third pair over the boards. Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin are perfectly capable third-pairing guys. Better than most. But when you have last change and you’re in the defensive side of the neutral zone, this is perhaps not a good idea.
To counter the Weber/Irwin pairing — which went out behind the mixed line of Mike Fisher between James Neal (instead of Filip Forsberg) and Pontus Aberg for additional shelter — Mike Sullivan, using the full benefit of the last change, put the Crosby line over the boards. It wasn’t the Preds’ bottom pairing’s first shift of the game, but they’d played less than two minutes at that point.
Here’s what happened next: Fisher wins the draw and Nashville ices it immediately, pushing them even closer to their own net. Crosby wins that draw and the puck stays in the Pens’ offensive zone for another 19 seconds before Chris Kunitz finds Conor Sheary with a whopper of a no-look pass off a secondary from Crosby thanks to a Weber turnover.
All of a sudden it’s 2-0 and all the wind is out of Nashville’s sails, if they had any at that point anyway. After that shift, the Weber/Irwin pairing had played half its two or so minutes against the Crosby line, conceding only one shot, but that shot being a beauty into 24 square feet of wide open net.
Point being: By all means shelter your bottom pairing on the road, but under no circumstances can you afford to put them out for a draw anywhere close to your own net.
Those two hadn’t played in almost six minutes, but if you’re so concerned about them getting clubbed by Crosby or Malkin’s lines, you’re weighing the risk of that happening versus Ellis/Josi — having just played two-plus minutes of the previous five — getting the puck off that Fisher neutral-zone faceoff win and doing something more useful with it, like gaining the red line before you throw down to Pittsburgh’s end boards.
Maybe there’s no good answer there, but I’m not sure letting Sullivan hard-match a player like Crosby against Matt Irwin was the best Laviolette could have come up with.
5 – The process
The good news is that everyone, to a man, in the Pens room seemed appalled by the fact that they went 37 minutes without a shot and still somehow won the game. It’s better than the alternative result, to be sure, and Sullivan is too smart to be like, “Well hey we found a way to win.” A good coach has to take the W but then also scream at his elite team to never ever let that happen again.
But here’s the thing: Nashville should change nothing. As mentioned above, the odds that Rinne coughs up four on 11 again seem fairly small. And so too do the odds that Pittsburgh is once again held to 12 shots.
With that in mind, the way Game 1 played out — with the Penguins getting shelled but winning anyway — is about how I expected things to go. Nashville has the horses and the authoritarian forecheck to keep Pittsburgh from breaking out effectively in most cases (okay, maybe not the third or fourth Pittsburgh goals) and Pittsburgh has the skill to make that not matter.
Obviously with the first Nashville goal having been disallowed things changed a lot and quickly, but the Predators protecting a lead rather than trailing for the majority of the game makes things go very differently.
Either way, should be a long series. And fun.
4 – Officiating
Listen, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. If the Preds win, PK Subban gets a Cup and Shea Weber is sad. If the Pens win, Sidney Crosby finally surpasses Jonathan Toews among the game’s all-time greats (ha ha ha), and maybe Evgeni Malkin moves into the top 100 players of all time. These are all good results to me, a cool and smart hockey person.
But I gotta tell ya: The Preds got b-o-n-e-d boned by the officials in Game 1. The offside review, what are ya gonna do, right? The league foolishly and stubbornly insists on enforcing the letter of the law and not the spirit of it. Fair enough.
The interference call Calle Jarnkrok is total BS. Now, James Neal is an idiot for that crosscheck on Trevor Daley that made it a 5-on-3, and that’s one you have to call. So the Preds are down two men on the road, immediately. Then Crosby gets away with a pick play on that 5-on-3 that was an easy, easy, easy interference call on its face, let alone given the fact that these were NHL refs who are always eager to issue makeup calls at the drop of a hat.
Of course, Nashville got the next three power plays, all of them perfectly legitimate, before PK Subban put the puck over the glass to stall the Preds’ comeback.
But the called-off goal and the 5-on-3 turned the game irrevocably in the Penguins’ favor. Yeah Nashville erased a three-goal deficit, but if you’re gonna basically spot the Pittsburgh Penguins a two-goal lead through the officiating, that sucks.
And here is where I say that if the Preds didn’t want to lose, they wouldn’t have given up three goals in the first period. Bad strategy to do that. But things did not go their way in the first 20 minutes as far as the refs were concerned.
I’m an advocate of a very loose interpretation of the rulebook in these situations. Call the obvious stuff (like the Neal crosscheck) but if it’s a borderline play, let it go. Ideally, Cup Final games should be played at 5-on-5 as much as humanly possible.
3 – The Predators power play?
Heading into the Cup Final, the Preds’ power play was 2 for its previous 26. They went 2-for-3 in Game 1.
Now, I had some concerns watching it, especially when the first power play unit was on the ice. Basically everything had to run through Roman Josi, which is fine if you want your No. 4 defenseman who’s really good at distributing the puck to go through all that for you. But Josi was perhaps a little too trigger-happy. The puck was coming to him about five feet out from the top of the circle and he was just stepping into every single one.
On their second power play unit, Ryan Ellis effectively plays the same role.
The Penguins basically did not let Nashville get into high-danger territory on the power play. Or rather, Nashville largely settled for lower-danger shots; they attempted six on the power play, but only one from a high-danger area (and it went in).
They largely did this against Anaheim as well. Which I think is why they had so little power play success against the Ducks. Yeah when shots from just above the circles go in, that looks pretty good. That’s how Ellis opened Nashville’s account on Monday. But these are low-percentage shots.
They attempted 51 in nearly 41 minutes of power play time against the Ducks. Josi and Ellis took nearly half of them combined. And of those 51 attempts, only eight — EIGHT! — were from high-danger areas. They scored one goal on those.
You might be able to get away with that in the Western Conference Finals. But this is for the Cup. And things need to change.
2 – Offside reviews and don’t we all love them so much
What better way to kick off a highly anticipated, should-be-really-fun Stanley Cup Final than having a lengthy offside review that overturns a goal because a guy maybe had his skate blade off the ice a half-inch?
That’s Classic NHL, Baby!™
The really annoying thing about this particular offside review was, of course, that Filip Forsberg cllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaarly also had control of the puck and is therefore allowed to be anywhere on the ice he pleases. But hey, Gary Bettman says the offside review is…
1 – Working as intended
Which is why everyone hates this stupid league and not even self-identifying Hockey Fans watch the Cup Final unless their team is in it.
These people, man. I don’t know what goes through their heads.
(Not ranked this week: Arresting a nice guy only.
The Pittsburgh police charging the catfish man with three crimes, two of which are clearly lame overcharge offenses given out by particularly petty, weak-livered crybaby cops who are also idiot losers. Any kindhearted lawyer would represent this guy pro bono, and any competent judge would throw the charges sight unseen.
This is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and the court’s time. If all they want to do is deter further fish-throwing, I get it. But all this is gonna get dropped down to a quick fine and it’s stupid.
Free the Catfish One.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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