Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 2
You know how you sometimes have that day where everything just keeps going wrong? It usually starts off in the morning when you oversleep, miss the bus, forget your lunch, spill your coffee and drop your keys in an air vent. And as the day drags on, you get the feeling that this is all that's going to happen and that you may as well give up and forget about anything good happening. And true to form, the day doesn't improve and things don't get better and you come home feeling miserable and hoping that you don't have the same day tomorrow.
That's pretty much how last night's home opener of the Stanley Cup Finals felt for Ottawa. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. And it's not just the shots off the crossbar that didn't go in that should have gone in, it's not just that disallowed goal on a distinct kicking motion that was clearly not distinct, and it's not that last minute heroic batting of the puck before it crossed the line by Fleury on that heart-breaking should have been tie goal. It was a hell of a lot more than that.
The refs were the worst I've seen in a long time, allowing the Pens to steam roll over the Sens several times, with a particularly bad non-call on a pull on Alfredsson and a back check right on the numbers for Peter Regin. There is no way that should have been a 2 minute minor. And guess who the offender was? Matt Cooke, the nicest, softest guy in the NHL. We all remember that little love tap that he put on Marc Savard, right? The one that effectively ended his season and put him in a grade 2 concussion? Yeah, that guy. That's definitely the kind of guy that you want be easy on when it comes to dirty hits and cross checking.
I'm not saying that the Sens are blameless on this front, since there was clearly a lot of undisciplined plays and some selfish penalties. But when you think about it, there should have been a lot more calls on the Pens and a lot more goals for the Sens in this match up. Any of one of those Regin slapshots could have gone in. There were definitely opportunities there. Sometimes you get those good bounces and sometimes they just don't happen for you. That's tough and that's just the nature of the game.
But you couple a lot of bad bounces with a lot of non-calls and it's certain that the frustration level is going to go up, especially when your opponent is seemingly getting away with murder in their zone. How else do you expect people to react when faced with that? That's like finding out that the guy who stole your lunch from the fridge got a promotion over you.
Listening to the sports show on the way home from the game while stuck in the snake-like traffic of the parking lot, the announcers wouldn't touch the bad reffing with a 10 foot pole, noting that it wouldn't make a difference either way. While it's true that their opinions on the bad reffing weren't going to change anything, it's also equally true that their opinions on any aspect of the game doesn't change it either. I'm sorry, the guys on the radio show don't influence the ebb and flow or the quality of games or the players. Their job is to comment and analyze. You can analyze bad reffing and you can do it from an objective point of view. Getting frustrated with callers and telling them to suck it up is not a good way to treat your fanbase.
Throw out some facts and stop acting like you know everything on the face of the planet better than everyone who calls into your show. Comment on the fact that the Sens are one of the most heavily penalized teams in the NHL for one. Comment on what qualifies as a 5 minute boarding major. Open up the debate. Don't tell your listeners that they have to accept the two major realities of the game which were 1) reffing happens and you must overcome that and 2) Crosby's untouchable and he stole the entire game.
Yes, the guy's amazing. Yes, his team won. Yes, his team won because it played better and it played smarter. Yes, our team should have risen to the occasion and learned to change the pace of the game to their advantage, just as any team has to do in the playoffs. But it's a lot easier to do any of these things if you can just get a break.
One more point to make and I hate to do this because I honestly adore the fun-loving Spezza. In the pre-game interview, the media was giving both Alfie and Spezza heat over the fact that they're not producing. Fair enough, they're the top paid, the top six, their job is to produce and put up big numbers. It's obviously not to play defense, as we've seen many times. Alfie responded in his usual responsible and quiet manner and I can't say that anything he said really surprised or offended me. Spezza, on the other hand, was clearly feeling a little defensive, and he said something to the effect that he wasn't changing his game plan to please anyone.
How does that even begin to make sense? Does that mean he's not interested in pleasing anyone, not the fans who come out and support him, not the team or organization that he works for, not the city that he represents? And how does he think that his current game plan is working? He had so many bad giveaways the other night that the opposition is probably nicknaming him Santa for all the little gifts they received.
So here's what I think of this whole situation. I think that Cory's got to sit his guys down and give them good and proper hell. He has to call out the first line for the stupid things that they are doing and get them to simplify their game and throw more pucks to the net. All of Ottawa knows how lovely you pass. We really do. Your passes are magical and if they were food, they would be little cream puffs. Great.
But nothing ever happens if you don't throw pucks on the net. Bad angle shots, through traffic, off people's backsides if you have to. Get in there and get ugly. It doesn't have to be highlight real pretty. The puck is not a girl; don't get cute with it.
Stay out of the box. Hard calls are tough to take, but the stupid penalties are even harder to swallow because they serve no purpose. Get our agitators out there agitating. Get our big hitters out there hitting.
The Pens have learned not to give you time and space. That was their mistake in the first game, that and the fact that they didn't pair up Crosby with Malkin. Now that they've got that match up nailed and they've learned to cut you off, you have to play smarter as a team. In the first period, there were 3 Pens around their own net and not a single Senator. If you know where the defense is, you also know where they aren't. If they're all sitting up top of the blue paint, move them around the perimeter and use them to create a screen. There's 3 of them there, remember?
And there's no good reason why there shouldn't be someone sitting on Fleury. Remember that great goal from Karlsson in the first game? That wouldn't have been possible without Fisher's backside blocking Fleury's view. That will give him something to sweat over.
I hope someone is reading this.
I'm just glad that this day is over and that there's a new day and a new game on Tuesday. I hope that the guys are talking these points over and simplifying their game.
I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for a break.