Monday, May 16, 2016

Crosby and Malkin need to find their mojo

By Mark Madden
May 16, 2016

Ryan Callahan drew a 5-minute boarding penalty for this hit on Kris Letang in Game 1 of the 2016 Eastern Conference further discipline was meted out by the NHL.

Don’t panic. It’s only one loss. I said Penguins in six. That means they have to lose two. I hate having to explain crap like this every time the Penguins get beat. Refreshing Penguins playoff notes will, hopefully, make you smarter. If not, I still get paid.
  • Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored in eight games. Evgeni Malkin hasn’t scored in six. They were only minimally threatening in Game 1 vs. Tampa Bay. They combined for just one goal against Washington, and the Penguins still won the series. But that was the exception, not the rule. Crosby and Malkin make $21.5 million between them because they get lots of points. That’s absolutely the preeminent reason.
  • If the Penguins win the Stanley Cup, Crosby nails down a spot as one of the top 10 forwards of all time. That’s what’s at stake for him personally. His legacy needs a second Cup. Otherwise, there’s always going to be that “but.”
  • It doesn’t matter why Crosby and Malkin aren’t producing. But their linemates certainly aren’t helping. If the Penguins again struggle to score in Game 2, it’s time to shake up the combinations. It not about what did work. It’s about what will work. (I don't see reportedly mooted combinations of Crosby-Conor Sheary-Bryan Rust and Malkin-Chris Kunitz-Patric Hornqvist as providing the needed spark.)
  • The simplest cure to the ills of Crosby and Malkin is execution on the power play. But they are more responsible than anybody for that unit’s inconsistency. Not scoring on a five-minute power play in the first period of Game 1 set a very negative tone.
  • Matt Murray’s stats over the past three games: 2.98 goals-against average, .884 save percentage. Is he still the “hot goalie”? Coach Mike Sullivan thinks so. Murray starts Game 2.
  • The notion that Marc-Andre Fleury would be “rusty” is silly. He hasn’t played in six weeks. That’s not that long. Did Fleury forget how to put on his pads? Did he forget how to play the position? Fleury has been practicing for a month.
  • Justin Schultz should replace Olli Maatta in Game 2, and likely will. Maatta is a big talent, but should have autographed the puck after Alex Killorn scored Tampa Bay’s first goal Saturday. Killorn just blew by Maatta, and that’s happened one time too many. Schultz is an excellent skater. That might help against the Lightning.
  • If Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop is sidelined, the Lightning won’t sweat it too much. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 21, is a former first-round pick with huge talent. Lightning management’s high regard for Vasilevskiy is why they haven’t yet signed Bishop to a long-term contract. Bishop is bigger. Vasilevskiy may wind up being better.
  • If Ryan Callahan’s hit from behind on Kris Letang isn’t at least reviewable, then the Stanley Cup playoffs have adopted prison rules. Callahan wasn’t even ejected. NHL refs penalize minimally and let the league sort it out later. Then the league doesn’t. The NHL Department of Player Safety is a joke. And the notion that Letang is responsible for Callahan’s hit because he “turned at the last second” is beyond stupid.
  • Every hit from behind should be a major and ejection. No exceptions. Every shot to the head should be a major and ejection. No exceptions. Supplemental discipline should be frequent and severe. Do all that, and the problem withers and dies.
  • Hits like Callahan’s are designed to injure. Absolutely intentional. You’re supposed to separate the man from the puck, not the man from his senses. Ondrej Palat’s hit on Brian Dumoulin was just as malicious, and just as bad. NHL players' lack of respect for each other is appalling.
  • Tampa Bay beat two mediocre foes with goalie issues en route, but the Lightning aren’t in the Eastern Conference final by accident. Their transition game is exquisite. Some of their big defensemen are slow, but have good reach and busy sticks.
  • Lighting defenseman Victor Hedman is 6-foot-6, but not slow. He’s brilliant, a complete package. His 150-foot pass that shook Killorn loose for Tampa Bay’s first goal was a thing of beauty.
  • For all Tampa Bay’s speed and skill, they trap and clog as well as any team when the situation calls. No complaint. That’s one thing the Penguins could be better at.
  • A Derrick Pouliot for Jonathan Drouin trade was once rumored. Memo to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman: Can the Penguins make that deal now?
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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