Kovacevic: Pens' stars zero in on epic fail
So, this is how it's going to go down, right?
This chance-of-a-lifetime collection of talent Ray Shero has amassed, fronted by the world's two best players, supported by some of the best wingmen in the business, all of this is on the cusp of collapsing in the most unimaginable way:
They can't score.
The unbelievably, unfairly stacked Pittsburgh Penguins can't score.
Break down this stunning 6-1 loss to the Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final any way you please — which is to say, fuss over meaningless goaltending issues — but I say it comes down to an offensive team being unable to generate offense.
Want to analyze individuals?
OK, let's go …
Sidney Crosby: Zero points.
Evgeni Malkin: Zero points.
James Neal: Zero points.
Jarome Iginla: Zero points.
Pascal Dupuis: Zero points.
Chris Kunitz: Zero points.
Get the idea?
“Tough couple games,” Iginla was fairly whispering in a quiet home locker room at Consol Energy Center. “Couldn't get much going.”
Yeah, no kidding. And it's no fluke now. This wasn't Game 1, where the top two lines created chance after chance but merely misfired.
This was about established world-class players barely mustering enough creativity to cross the Boston blue line.
This was about a wired Crosby trying repeatedly — and senselessly — to stickhandle through a defense aimed at daring him to dish off. Not to mention those four giveaways that might have added up to the worst playoff performance of his adult life.
This was about Malkin, who had displayed such fire in the series opener, flaming out almost entirely. One brilliant rush in the first period was thwarted by an even better pad save from Tuukka Rask, and that was that.
This was about Iginla, who continues to be laughably misused on the left wing in what might wind up one of Dan Bylsma's most stubborn and mindless decisions of his tenure, ranking right up there with benching Crosby on the power play last spring.
This was about all four of those wingers, who combined for 21 goals in the first two series, now stone silent.
This was about the sporting adage that your best players have to be your best players … only whatever the extreme opposite is of that.
Three shots through the opening 18 minutes?
Twenty-seven for the night?
The only goal coming off a long-distance, unscreened flick by Brandon Sutter, as if to underscore that beating Rask shouldn't be akin to climbing Kilimanjaro?
That's just wholly — and literally — inexcusable.
They know it.
“We don't sit here and accept that,” Crosby said. “We know we're looked upon to score and produce. I'm not going to sit here and make any excuses. We have to be better, bottom line. We've got to find ways to create chances, to put the puck in the net ourselves. I'm not going to sit here and say it's Rask or anything they're doing. We've got to be better. That's just how it is.”
Correct. Boston's defense is packing in tight around Rask. But come on, we aren't talking about a team that's any better or worse defensively than the Senators, and we certainly aren't talking about a goaltender the caliber of Ottawa's Craig Anderson.
Blame Bylsma's system if you want, but the system applied was no different than Game 1, and all concerned on both sides were adamant after Game 2 that Claude Julien didn't make any adjustments on the Boston end.
So the Bruins who had no answer for Bylsma's system in Game 1 suddenly solved it?
Hmm, what's the real variable in this equation?
Oh, yeah, the players.
The star players.
“We know we need to score,” Neal said. “We know that.”
Why haven't they then?
“It's a combination of things,” he said. “We're not holding onto the puck enough. We're not getting enough traffic. We're making it too easy on Rask. It's on us to get that done.”
I'll say it again: Goaltending isn't the issue. Vokoun wasn't to blame on the three goals allowed. Pin that on minus-3 Kris Letang, who got caught on the first shift for Brad Marchand's breakaway, then inexplicably tried to fling a pass through the middle of the Penguins' zone — in hopes of a Brooks Orpik breakaway, no less! — only to fish the puck out from behind Vokoun.
Besides, Fleury wasn't remotely better and, if you ask me, there remains absolutely no controversy at the position: Vokoun must start Game 3.
Even defense really isn't the issue. The Penguins are an offensive team, for better and — as we just saw — for worse. When they don't mount attack zone time, the other flaws are exposed, notably the defense. When they don't produce, their inherent intimidation factor is lost.
Which is exactly what this series will be unless these scorers start doing their jobs.