Welcome to Hockey After Dark, a nightly recap of the NHL playoffs made possible by insomnia, playoff anxiety, and my BFF caffeine. Come for the topical social commentary, and stay for the sporadic in-depth analysis littered with obscure literary references. If you enjoy the snark, feel free to follow me at @DXTraeger.
Penguins Wisely Leave Filthadelphia, Will Stay Away as Long As Possible
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers have an extra off day scheduled for their first round playoff series, and Pittsburgh took the (somewhat) unusual step of traveling back home in lieu of simply staying near the site of Game 4.
I say “somewhat” because when & if you’re presented locale options that range between “Philadelphia” and “ANYWHERE ELSE” you always choose the latter (and yes, I’m looking right at you,
Even with the extra travel, the Penguins have to feel good given their 5-1 victory on Sunday afternoon and 2-1 overall series lead.
While the first nine minutes of the weekend tilt were unacceptable (the Flyers’ forecheck was unnecessarily successful, the Penguins yielded way too many turnovers, and every Pittsburgh defender looked as though he could benefit from a visit from Charlie Sheen or the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates– but seriously, DRUGS ARE BAD, MMMKAY?), the rest of the game went according to script, giving Philadelphia more questions than answers moving forward.
What’s unlikely to change from the Orange & Black perspective is a preference toward getting pucks on net in lieu of trying to create beautiful passing plays.
Nobody embodied this new-found Philadelphia preference like Claude “I Am a Sexual Offender” Giroux, the usual passing conduit for the Flyers’ power-play. Giroux was wildly firing shots like he was down 11 and playing NBA JAM.
As I’ve said in previous installments of Hockey After Dark, the Flyers aren’t reinventing the wheel in their pursuit of scoring ugly goals during the playoffs, but the mere fact that they’re committing to such a drastic change in tactics signals desperation.
The Flyers know– they absolutely, positively know– that they have no chance at beating the Pittsburgh Penguins if gameplay opens up to a point where both squads are trading scoring chances. Not only do the Penguins have more elite finishers, but Pittsburgh also sports the superior netminder by FAR.
As odd as this sounds, I would expect the Flyers to disregard their entire franchise history’s worth of priorities and try to play squeaky-clean, skilled hockey instead of mucking things up.
Philadelphia has proven to itself that it simply can’t stop the Pittsburgh power-play with any semblance of regularity, so the traditional “Broad Street Bullies” tactics just won’t play.
The biggest question for me regarding Wednesday’s game is what kind of roster changes the Flyers make. Wayne Simmonds is ordinarily one of my favorite non-Penguins as I love his game and knack for scoring within five feet of the net.
Be it injury, age, or scheme, Wayne Simmonds has looked more like Wayne Brady this series.
I won’t be shocked to see another goaltender in net and perhaps Jordan Weal inserted into the lineup to try and interject some more speed into the Philadelphia attack.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Win a Playoff Game, Fans Wildly Chant Auston Matthews Name
Toronto finally managed to shut down Boston’s top line, and the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins 4-2. But I have some questions for the Toronto faithful.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Auston Matthews is a great hockey player, and will likely be so for years and years to come.
…but I’m at a loss as to the last time I heard a home crowd chanting one of its own player’s names– and please, by all means, if you can think of an example please post it in the comments below!– and I don’t know how to interpret it.
The way I’m interpreting the cheer was a general “We have this guy! Yay us!” but that’s just…redundant? I mean, if the Boston Bruins had traded Matthews to Toronto, then I would totally get and support that taunt. For instance, the Penguins should taunt the aforementioned Maple Leafs about Phil Kessel at each and every opportunity.
I don’t know, the cheer just confused me, but maybe that’s the gentle Canadian fandom confusing the Angry American in me.
Regardless, Toronto’s win cuts their series deficit to 2-1, and gives the insufferable Toronto Media way too much fodder to drool over in the coming 48 hours. Godspeed to all of us.
New Jersey Devils Flip the Script, Down the Lightning 5-2
Despite skating timid and scared for the first half of the game, the New Jersey Devils, the NHL franchise with the best story behind the team name, would eventually settle down and allow their speed and top-end talent to control the talent-laden Lightning.
Taylor Hall, my personal choice for the Hart Trophy winner for the regular season, was the Devil’s best player (as he needs to be in order for his team to win), scoring 1 goal and dishing off 2 assists.
His three points paced the Devils in a game marred by an ugly final minute in which both teams had entire lines assigned 10 minute misconducts for engaging in fisticuffs with the game’s outcome already determined.
In theory, the NHL put in a rule to suspend players from the offending teams in such circumstances, but as everyone in Pittsburgh and
Detroilet Detroit knows from the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, that’s a call that’s rarely ever made.
West Coast Games Were Played, But I’m on the East Coast and Couldn’t Possibly Care Less
Well, okay, that’s not entirely true, as I want to see the upstart Colorado Avalanche somehow unseat the President Trophy winner, the Nashville Predators and make beautiful, beautiful Carrie Underwood cry.
PK Subban has been his usual PK Subban self, which is to say that he’s a skilled player that engages in pretty stupid and borderline dirty behavior on the ice.
Through two periods of the Colorado/Nashville game, Nathan Mackinnon has two goals and looks every bit the part of a Hart Trophy runner-up, while Pekka Rinne looks every bit the “Great at Home, Horrible Elsewhere” goalie he was last spring and has now been pulled in three consecutive road post-season games dating back to last year.
Meanwhile, in San Jose, the Sharks are absolutely giving the Anaheim
Mighty Ducks fits. Eric Fehr scored a freaking highlight power-move goal that gave the Sharks a 5-1 through two periods, bringing San Jose but 20 minutes away from the ol “commanding 3-0 series lead.”
I’d love to say up another 40 minutes to finish up both west coast games, but seeing how my eldest daughter devised a previously unknown means of pooping somewhere other than her potty, I’m exhausted from keeping up with her cleverness.
Also, no moment of Shirtless Zen as there were no overtime games on Monday night…
(I assume that all of you know why I refer to it as “Shirtless Zen,” because if not, well, you will never see Buccigross in the same light again)