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Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Series Tied 3-3, Not Fleury’s Fault

By: Casey Shea
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(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

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There’s not much point in breaking down Game 6. The Penguins lost and will now face a do-or-die situation tomorrow night in Game 7.

What I’m more concerned with at the moment is finger-pointing being done by “fans” as to how the Penguins have gotten to this point.

Specifically, I’m talking about the fans pointing the finger at Marc-Andre Fleury for being the sole reason the Pens have lost the last two games.

The knowledgeable hockey fan knows this isn’t the case. The bandwagon fans that weren’t anywhere to be found during the recent dark ages are the ones causing all the problems.

Some are saying he needs to “steal” a game in this series. He’s done that. Without his stellar performance in Game 1, this series might already be over.

At the risk of sounding like the “leave Britney Spears alone guy,” I will say this: Fleury is not the problem with the Penguins right now. Those people need to be reminded that without Fleury, the Penguins would have struggled to even make the playoffs this season.

The injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were felt down the stretch and are even more apparent in the playoffs. The Penguins have only scored 14 goals in this series through six games.

That’s an average of 2.33 goals per game, which means Fleury needs to be almost perfect for the Pens to be successful.

He’s more than capable of allowing two or fewer goals in a game. However, when his defense hangs him out to dry, the job becomes impossible.

Take Game 6 for example:

The first goal is a bad bounce off a blocked shot in front.

The second goal is the direct result of Mark Letestu losing his man.

The third goal was scored because no one picked up Steve Downie in front of the net. Let’s also remember that Fleury made the important first stop on that play as Zbynek Michalek was diving back into the play before Downie scored on the rebound.

The fourth goal was a breakaway off a weird bounce off a glass partition in Tampa Bay’s end.

Explain to me how any of these are Fleury’s fault. He gave his team a chance to win the game by swallowing up point-blank shots and shutting down the Lightning’s power play almost single-handedly. I say almost, because Craig Adams sacrificed his body several times to block a shot and that deserves more credit than he got for it.

Aside from the power play being 1-for-30 in the series, there are other more serious problems that aren’t being addressed.

For one, the defensive pairing of Ben Lovejoy and Matt Niskanen has been atrocious in the playoffs. Niskanen only played a total of 11:07 during Game 4, which went to double-overtime. In Game 5, he only saw 10:24 of ice time during a blowout.

Lovejoy played even less in those two games with totals of 9:45 and 8:52 respectively.

Conversely, Brooks Orpik is playing over 20 minutes a game and was on the ice for 40:32 in Game 4.

Basically, because the third pairing has been soft, the other four guys have to eat up more minutes. This is how it’s been since Crosby and Malkin have gone down.

The last two games I’ve found myself saying that the defense looks tired and I don’t blame them one bit.

How many tight games did the Pens play down the stretch? Practically every one of them right?

The top two pairings have seen extra minutes since January, so it’s not a stretch to think that fatigue is setting in over this long series.

That’s why I want either Lovejoy or Niskanen to sit Game 7. I don’t care which one, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

I want Deryk Engelland in there for a couple of reasons.

He brings something to the lineup that only one other defenseman has shown a willingness to do. Engelland loves banging bodies. He won’t stand for Lightning forwards crowding around the crease.

He finishes off every check, he clears the front of the net and he doesn’t try to do too much with the puck. He’s like Brooks Orpik Lite.

Tampa Bay has figured out how to win in this series and that’s by taking the puck to the blue paint. Why? Because they know the Pens won’t move them out of the way.

Fleury has gotten an up-close view of more Lightning players’ backsides in this series than he would have cared to.

Watch how Tampa Bay plays in front of Roloson. When a shot from the outside gets to Roloson, the team collapses down in front of him to tie up any sticks or bodies looking for the rebound.

The Pens haven’t done that in the last two games.

No one outside of Adams, Mike Rupp or Arron Asham have consistently taken the puck to the net to try and generate scoring chances. No one.

When the fourth line has consistently been the best line for your team in a long series, it’s usually not a good thing.

You need secondary scoring in the playoffs to be successful, but when the secondary scorers become your primary scorers, there’s something wrong.

Someone needs to start paying a price to score goals. Pascal Dupuis took a hit last night, but he scored on the play. There needs to be more of that.

Roloson has had it way too easy in this series. He’s not “outplaying” Fleury by any means. He made one good series of saves in Game 6 on Max Talbot and Dupuis right after the Pens tied the game at 2-2.

The thing is, he hasn’t had to work for 90 percent of the saves he’s making. Sure, Pittsburgh has outshot the Lightning in every game, but Tampa has had the majority of the better scoring opportunities over the las two games.

Why?

They’re desperate and they’re taking the puck to the net. They’re not afraid to go to the rough areas because they’ve been allowed to get there relatively easily.

As for the power play, it’s no coincidence that Eric Tangradi was on the ice for that lone goal the Pens have scored on the man advantage in this series.

He went to the net and planted himself there for the entire game. He took a beating, but it paid off.

He needs to be in the lineup for Game 7.

The experts always say you shouldn’t tinker with your lineup if it’s working. Well, the lineup used in Game 5 and 6 didn’t get the job done. It’s time to make a couple changes.

I know the likely candidate to sit, should Tangradi be inserted, is Chris Conner, but it should probably be Alex Kovalev.

Aside from the one goal he scored in Game 1, he’s been largely invisible in this series.

Forgive me, that’s not a fair statement.

He’s been extremely visible because of all the turnovers at the offensive blue line and trips to the penalty box.

Even if he does suit up for Game 7, I’d leave him off the power play. He’s not the only problem on the power play, but there’s not enough space on this website for me to explain all the problems there.

I would love to see Rupp, Asham or Adams on the power play firmly planted in front of Roloson. It couldn’t hurt right? It’s not like the power play could get any worse.

One other note, all the talk about Crosby not manning up and playing is utterly absurd.

Head injuries are not something you can rush back from. Look at Marc Savard for proof as to why this injury needs to play itself out.

Do you really think Crosby likes sitting out and not being able to help his teammates on the ice?

This is a guy who was born to play the game. It’s always been his passion in life. He wants to be back in the lineup more than any of us will ever or could ever understand.

However, the doctors, Penguins and even Crosby himself know that this process can’t be rushed.

We all want to see him make a miraculous comeback and lead the Pens to glory. It’d make for a great story, but would you really sacrifice the next 10-plus years of being a Stanley Cup contender for this one season?

I wouldn’t.

What I would do is have him take the pre-game skate tomorrow to try and mess with the Lightning. You can’t tell me they wouldn’t lose a little focus if they saw No. 87 flying around in warmups.

The fans would be pumped up just catching a glimpse of him and then having Jeff Jimmerson sing the National Anthem.

Having him skate at that point would just pump the building up even more for Game 7.

I realize the series was 3-1 and it’s now 3-3, but this isn’t the time to start getting down on the team. We should be supporting them more than ever.

So to all the bandwagon fans criticizing Fleury and Crosby, put on your black and gold with the rest of us and start cheering for a win tomorrow night.

Should they lose, I hope you don’t break an ankle when you jump off the bandwagon.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

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