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Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Cup’

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row?

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row? I will go further and say it is possible that they could win four in a row. This does not mean that I am not aware of the difficulties with winning three let alone four. What I am aware of is the luck the Pittsburgh Penguins had over a decade ago.

When you at the Stanley Cup winners and their rosters of the past decade, only one team stands out and they are the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have without a doubt the two best players in the league for over a decade. Sorry Ovie, you were never one or two. As much as I like Jonathan Toews, he is not one of the five best players in the league. We hear Patrick Kane, Carey Price, and Erik Karlsson but they have their limitations. Kane cannot take over games like Malkin can, though, I am sure Blackhawks fans would disagree.

For most of Crosby and Malkin’s career, teams had to deal with two lines. Only Penguins poor coaching hurt these two, not to mention David Steckel’s hit to Crosby’s head that took him out for over a year. Talk about poor officiating. I guess Victor Hedman had a part in it, too. Correcting the coaching situation after six seasons, the Penguins appeared to play as a team people expected to see when Bylsma was coaching. The point is the Penguins have two of the best offensive players playing on their team.

When you look at the past Stanley Cup winners, they simply do not have two. Chicago has Patrick Kane. What did Los Angeles and Boston have? Detroit only won the Cup because of a very young and inexperienced Penguins team. The Wings were a veteran team that ran circles around the young whippersnappers. Of the teams that lost in the finals, there are no outstanding players. Joe Thornton is on the downside, Henrik Lundqvist is also at the tail end of his career. In fact, goalies are limited in the fact they are a defense only even though Pekka Rinne may want to argue that.

If we look at the Leafs or Oilers, they have a player each that will be the next great players. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are only one player on their team. After these two, most people will find it difficult to name another star player let alone another player at all. Patrick Kane is all alone on the Hawks. Ovie has shown that having good talent around you doesn’t win cups. Having a great offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson hasn’t won Ottawa the cup. Carey Price of Montreal is only one man. No, there is no team with two great players on their roster.

The Penguins have the fortune to have two great players to build around and have done so with their three Stanley Cup victories. These two players make it difficult for teams to play against and with the support they now have, there is no reason why they couldn’t win two additional cups before they retire. The Penguins won back to back cups because of two players and their supporting cast. Though possible, it doesn’t look like any other team is in a position to win two in a row without having two great players. Winning a third and possibly a fourth remains the reality for the Penguins alone.

Supporting this idea of four in a row is the goaltending. The Penguins have it in Matt Murray. With Kessel, Guentzel, and the additional young cast members the supporting offensive strength is there to help push the Penguins further. The Penguins could have two or three offensive line. The checking role is supported by youth and experience. There is no worry here. The defense has been the main weakness as stated by the media and anyone with a mouth or ability to construct sentences. Somehow the Penguins won two cups with this defense. The key here is goaltending. The defense doesn’t have to be great, just good enough and this is what the Penguins have. Injuries have shown the Penguins to have depth, and this depth is created by the leadership of the veterans and coaches.

Finally, I believe Mike Sullivan to be a better coach than Bylsma and many of the opposing coaches he faced in the playoffs. Jacques Martin is an undervalued coach who has helped Mike Sullivan. In fact, maybe he is why the Penguins do not need a great defense. Then there Rick Tocchet is another issue for me, however, I have heard positives about him such as helping Phil Kessel. The fact remains that the coaching staff is stable and a very important reason to why the Penguins have won two cups in a row.

What makes the Penguins special are Crosby and Malkin. Other teams have the same or similar attributes the Penguins have but do not have these two players. Having one of these players may get you a cup win or maybe two in three years, but it will not give you the possibility of winning three or four Stanley Cups in a row. Penguins fan or not, it would be great to see a dynasty once more.

Goal or No Goal

Understanding the NHL and the rules is an important element to understanding how a game is played. However, this knowledge doesn’t always provide an answer to why a decision on ice by the Referee is made. The lack of understanding the rules and interactions between players and Referees can lead fans to angst and the wrong conclusions. Game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals had two incidents related to a goal and no goal that need better comprehension.

If you watch the videos of NHL Referees or players mic’d up, you begin to see the relationship between the two groups and how a game will be called. The Referee notifies the players how they will call the game and even tell the goalies their intent. There are discussions between the two groups of why the Referee made or did not make the call. It is clear the Referees are trying to not influence the game but will try to take care of the goalie, “We’re gonna protect ya.” That is a statement from the 2016 playoffs between Pittsburgh and Washington. Referee Jean Hebert, I believe, makes this statement to Braden Holtby during game three. This entails quick whistles and penalties if needed.

Refereeing is not only an objective job but also a subjective one. All fans can recall a moment of where the Referee did not call an obvious penalty during a game or called a “ticky-tacky” penalty. These are subjective and is easily understood when you listen to the Referees interact with the players. Their intent is to let the players play without interfering. There is an intent to call a game evenly and even if the Referees do not admit to make things even, there appears to be attempts by Referees to correct a bad call with another bad call. This is where we see penalties that sometimes do not make sense in the scheme of how the game is being officiated.

There are downsides to allowing these players play. Skilled teams are hampered by lesser skilled or even defensively minded teams as infractions are ignored in the attempt to allow teams play. If we look at the 2017 Stanley Cup games we see the uneven calling not only during a game but between games. If we look at one of the earlier games, Conor Sheary is crosschecked multiple times before a penalty is called. P.K. Subban hits Sidney Crosby in the head a few times without a penalty called. This isn’t a one-way issue as the Penguins were guilty of similar infractions such as game five’s event where Crosby was gently dribbling Subban’s head on the ice. It can be agreed upon that there are plenty of no calls and bad calls where no single event is truly the major event we like to make it out to be.

The first of Game Six’s issues was the no goal by Colton Sissons. Forsberg shoots the puck from Murray’s right. Murray initially stops the puck and from Referee Pollock’s position this looks like a save as he cannot see anything on the left of Murray. There is about a second before the whistle is blown. Before the whistle and unbeknownst to Pollock, the puck is on edge and rolling away from Murray across the crease about a foot away before the whistle is blown. It is roughly less than a second before Colton Sissons dives and knocks the puck into the net. There are two issues with this play. The first is the whistle and the second is the goal. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkYZJPJqI4U)

Per Rule 38.4, this was a good no goal call. Paraphrasing this part of the rule, “”The video review process shall be permitted to assist the Referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals. This would also include situations whereby the Referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses the goal line and enters the net as the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle” we see that Pollock’s call could be overturned, but in this case, the puck was not moving into the net prior to the whistle and Sissons made contact with the puck and knocked it into the net after the whistle was blown. This was no longer a continuous play. The Referees made the correct call based on the rules.

The next issue is the quick whistle. This is the subjective part of the game where the Referee made an assumption and likely for the protection of the goalie. Keep in mind the conversation between Holtby and Hebert or even look at other instances of the keeper getting the puck and in the attempt to pass it to a teammate the whistle is blown. This is simply part of the game. We either like the call or hate it based on whose team it affects. Now we can argue did some of the penalties called against the Penguins and not called against the Predators later on was an attempt to fix things or make someone happy. That is a personal decision as the Referees aren’t likely to state their intent.

The second issue was Patric Hornqvist’s winning goal. There were some fluff commentators and fluff sports writers stating it was goal tender interference. Honestly, I don’t believe most if not all of these people actually understand hockey, but that is my opinion. In this case, Justin Schultz shoots the puck wide and to the left of goalie Pekka Rinne. It hits the boards behind the net and only Hornqvist reacts to the rebound. Rinne is next to react as he drifts to his left partly outside his crease where he is converging with Hornqvist’s attempt to retrieve the puck. Hornqvist is trying to skate around the moving Rinne but cannot avoid Rinne as Rinne lifts his left leg in a kicking motion to impede Hornqvist. Hornqvist hits the puck out of the air against Rinne’s elbow or glove and the puck enters the net. A goal. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tENiCpaIk9A)

People and one Canadian mouthpiece I am specifically thinking of believes this is goalkeeper interference. He apparently ignores Rinne’s kicking motion. Predator coach Peter Laviolette asks for a coach’s challenge. Good decision as anything can happen. What do the rules state? Paraphrasing Rule 78, “Protection of Goalkeeper

(b) If an attacking player initiates any contact, other than incidental contact, with the goalkeeper, while the goalkeeper is outside of his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

(NOTE 1) In exercising his judgment under subsections (a) and (b) above, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.

  1. In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and offensive player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

It is clear that this was incidental contact on Hornqvist’s part as he was outside the crease and Rinne was impeding Hornqvist while Hornqvist was not initiating contact. This was also a rebound of sorts and Hornqvist was attempting to play the puck while Rinne was hoping for a miracle, I guess.

 

As difficult as it is for Nashville Predator fans to digest and Penguins haters to accept, these two events were valid in every way. Yes, Pollock’s whistle appears to be a quick whistle, but that is subjective to the fans. There are plenty of instances during the NHL season and playoffs where a quick whistle was blown when the puck was secured in the goalies glove or appeared to be frozen by the goalie. This doesn’t make it easy for an impassioned fan to accept without pain, but this is the reality of sports. I am sure there are plenty of fans for Edmonton that would wish for a quick whistle or a call for interference. There truly are bad calls or ignored calls, but this happens to every teams in all games. As fans, we should be allowed to be upset but also recognize that it is part of the game.

The Modern Ice Hockey Physicality Myth

1989 Stanley Cup playoffs was the last time fans saw teams play back to back games with a day’s break only happening when the series switched to the opponent’s arena. This meant four grueling games in the first five days. Physicality could be an effective means of dealing with a more talented team as you would punish them with your forechecking and backchecking. The more you hit your opponent the more bruising it became and the body began to wear out. That was the idea of playing a hard, physical game. Today we continue to hear how you can wear out a team by playing physical. This isn’t the case anymore. Wearing out a team through physical play doesn’t happen as is suggested.

Today’s series give teams a day between games and at least two days between the switching of arenas. The body gains an extra day or two of rest thus reducing or eliminating any effect a physical game has on a team. Physicality still can play a role but not a large one. Going back to 1989, a seven game series would take ten days to complete. Using the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks series as an example, the first game was April 5 and the seventh was April 15. Contrast that with 2016 series between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues which began on April 29 and ended on May 11. Playing your first four games in five days is terribly draining while playing four in seven days provides time for the body to rest.

The teams that make it to the Stanley Cup finals have it far easier than Calgary and Montreal where six games were played in eleven days in 1989. If the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks make it to six games, it will have taken fourteen days. Playing four rounds of hockey is now far easier than 1989 or earlier. This extra time gives the body time, though short, to rest. So what does wear out a hockey team if playing physical isn’t it?

Physicality is a component of wearing out a team. Taking punishing checks game after game still batters the body. The physical side of this argument must switch to the mental side of the game for the effect of wearing out a team to be seen. A player can become less effective during a game as they are physically battered, but this doesn’t necessarily carry into the next game when you have a day or two off. How willing is a player to take hard checks and how willing are they to give everything they have to win relies on their mental makeup.

The mental side of the game does far more to defeat a team than the actual physicality of the game. Physical play helps to wear down the willingness of a player to play. When a team is beaten, not physically, in a game, the mental side of a player takes a hit especially if they are dominated by their opponent. Doubts begin to set in, and their desire to continue, even though they want to, wanes. At some point, a player becomes less willing to endure a hard check and thus allows the other team the momentum through their mistakes from not enduring the check in order to make a play. If the results from taking the hit doesn’t produce a positive effect, then the player is more likely to avoid the check and thus create errors and give the opposing team opportunities.

The mental factor is what drives teams to win or lose. If a team has an ounce of doubt then this doubt begins to expand for each negative event during a game. Their actions and words betray what they would normally desire. Complaints of cheating or poor refereeing, slowing mobility, and sloppy play express what the mental state of the player is. They want to win but do not have the mental ability to play through the pain and stress of the game. These players and teams need an injection of mental adrenaline to give them the energy to play on and evaporate this exhaustion.

The current Stanley Cup finals shows how Pittsburgh is willing to endure punishment because of their position in the series. Mentally, they are not exhausted and remain positive. The Sharks on the other hand appear slow and defeated with blips of brief energy when the score a goal. The sharks have out hit the Penguins in the last three games while tying the Penguins with 36 hits in game 1. Penguins continue to remain the faster team and hold a 3-1 series lead with game 3 being a game that got away from the Penguins. The Shark are tired.

Does this mean the Sharks are doomed and will lose the series? Odds are, yes. There is a but with this statement. Unlike being physically beaten where the body just can’t go at the speeds it did earlier or move like it once did, mental exhaustion can evaporate when the spirit of the team rises beyond the exhaustion it has. As they play game five tonight, will the Sharks look slow and old? What fight do they have in them? My guess is an early goal will boost their confidence and energy, but it may not be enough. As I watched the series unfold, the Sharks look more and more tired as if their mind is saying enough is enough. Outhitting Pittsburgh hasn’t worn the Penguins down, but the struggles the Shark are having is wearing out the Sharks. The Sharks desperately need a huge shot of mental adrenaline or else the Penguins hoist the Cup for a fourth time.