Spanked!

Well, the Penguins showed up at Joe Lewis Arena in Detroit, but they forgot how to play hockey. At the very least, they forgot how to play their brand of hockey. Michael Therrien had the flightless birds on a defensive posture for the entire night, having them back off from loose pucks and cheat back towards their defensive zone. This is not the same brand of hockey that the Penguins have been playing during this post-season nor did it look like the same team that crushed the Flyers one week ago. This begs the question: Is it wise for a coach to change his team’s philosophy just before playing on the biggest stage in the sport? I think we got the answer to that question in a resounding 4-0 loss to the Red Wings. At the very least, it gives us something to ponder as we wait until Monday to see if they learned anything from the game.

Throughout these playoffs, the Penguins have played an aggressive style of hockey, where they raced for loose pucks and forced turnovers. This, in turn, led to many brilliant scoring chances and often many goals. Game 1 of this series was quite different. The entire team looked quite timid, passing up on chances to play the puck in favor of setting up in a more defensive, reactive posture. As every player was doing it, we can only conclude that this was the game plan put forth by the coach, and in this case, the buck stops there.

Unable to capitalize on early power plays, ones that did offer tantalizing opportunities to put the rubber past Osgood (who was good, quite good), the Pens seemed to fall back and hope that the Red Wings would make a mistake, any mistake, that they could take advantage of. This, of course, is faulty thinking and faulty coaching. Granted, I love Therrien. He has done wonders with this team, from the injuries that they faced to the leadership he provided this young team during their playoff run. I’m now left to wonder if he had some “Stanley Cup jitters” himself, which led him into his faulty judgment. He’s never coached in the cup finals before, only making the championship series down with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. Now, on the brightest stage in hockey, it was the coach, not his young team, who blinked.

Therrien changed up his lines fairly early in the game in the hope that it would spark some offense. This was a drastic, “panic button” move that revealed just how the real “inexperienced” member of the organization was it’s coach, not it’s young stars. Crosby played well and Dupius had a terrific night. Hossa had some nice scoring chances. That was about it. Malkin looked asleep at times. Hal Gill looked like Lurch from the Adams Family in how fast he was skating.

As dreadful as the play was from the Penguins, this is a long series. Unlike the Super Bowl, one bad game does not end a season. However, this is the first time this team has faced adversity since well back into the regular season. The Senators fell quickly. The Rangers were outlasted with young legs and superior fire power. The Flyers met what by that point had become a force of nature. Then, through the game plan put forth tonight, the Red Wings enjoyed a cool breeze that they were easily able to skate around and through. The Wings owned the neutral zone. They owned the corners. They owned the precision passing. They owned the hustle and drive. In the end, and because of all of this, they owned Fleury.

Here is to hoping that the flightless birds get back to what got them there, back to their bread and butter, because if they keep playing this timid style of hockey, it’s going to be a very short series.

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