Friday, March 7, 2008

Michele Therrien Pulls Fleury, Penguins Fall Anyways

Marc-Andre Fleury started only his third game since returning from a high ankle sprain but only lasted one period before being pulled in favor of Ty Conklin. The Pittsburgh Penguins defense did absolutely nothing to help Fleury as they allowed a plethora of glorious scoring opportunities and ultimately finished the first period giving up 19 shots on goal. Fleury allowed 3 of those shots to go in and was relieved during the intermission, giving way to Conklin who would stop 21 of the 22 shots he would face in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Pittsburgh actually had plenty of opportunities to cut the deficit to one goal including back-to-back powerplays in the 2nd but one of the league's best teams on the man advantage just couldn't get the job done. I felt like Therrien actually did the team a disservice yanking Fleury after only one period. While Fleury wasn't dominant, he did face nearly 20 shots in a single period, made a couple of big saves and was completely let down by his defense.

Conklin allowed a big goal only 3:34 into his night that put Florida up 4-1, and despite Pittsburgh scoring shortly thereafter it never really felt like Pittsburgh actually had a shot. They were slow and indecisive in their own zone, they turned the puck over in the neutral zone and in their own corners, and Ryan Whitney had another typical mistake-filled night and ended with a minus 2 next to his name. Overall, Pittsburgh doesn't look like a team that should be competing for the top spot in the East right now and the reason for that has nothing to do with goaltending. In fact, the whole reason they are that high in the standing is because of their surprisingly sharp goaltending making up for defensive mistakes all over the ice. To me, they still seem like the soft, easily overwhelmed team that got exposed in the playoffs last year.

It's great to see Crosby back but there were multiple situations last night where you could tell he's not quite 100%. One scenario had him racing a defenseman into the corner for the puck. Normally, Crosby would lean on him, take the puck and wheel back the other way leaving the defenseman behind. Instead, Crosby eased up and let the defenseman take the puck as if he didn't quite trust his ankle enough to make those kind of hard, pivots that helped him win the scoring title last year. Of course, some credit has to go to the Florida Panther's goaltender Craig Anderson who had a very solid night in net, but if the Pittsburgh Penguins can't play better in their own zone right now, I'm not sure they have a chance of surviving beyond the first round when the speed and intensity are doubled and I still feel that Ryan Whitney may be one of the biggest reasons why the Penguins may struggle in the post-season.

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