Dan Bylsma’s hockey team has fallen and it can’t get up. His best players are mistake-prone and ineffective. They can’t score. They could barely skate Monday night without bumping into one another.
And the goaltending has turned off-the-charts bad. First, Tomas Vokoun was beaten soundly and driven from the net, then his replacement, Marc-Andre Fleury, came in and proved no better.
Watch: Bruins hammer Penguins 6-1
So, coach Bylsma, what now? What next for a team that has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang – all that Miami Heat-like firepower - and finds itself down 2-0 in an Eastern Conference final against the Boston Bruins?
A grim-faced Bylsma offered some stony silence in the wake of Pittsburgh’s 6-1 loss. He took a drink of water then said the only thing he could think of at his post-game news conference: “Going to Boston, get our first win there.”
You can understand why the coach was so limited on the subject. He’d done all he could during the game, hollering instructions, juggling lines, and still the Penguins looked as dumbstruck as they did inept. Even the normally brilliant Crosby played as if in a fog bank. And Letang? He was a bystander all night, finishing minus-3 and entirely deserving of it.
Bylsma refused to pin the blame on his stars, despite the Crosby gaffe that led to the Bruins scoring the first goal 28 seconds into the opening period. But seeing his team so discombobulated this late in the playoffs was admittedly a surprise, and not in a happy kind of way.
“We've gotten away from our game. We've gotten off our game plan,” he said. “We get down early today again and, not too far after the second goal, we get off kilter and deviate again from how we can play and what we need to do.”
What they’ll likely do for Game 3 in Boston is go back to Vokoun in net and play Crobsy and Malkin together more often. It’s the go-down-fighting-with-your-best approach and it could be all the Penguins have left because, to this point, they’ve lost to Boston by a combined score of 9-1 and have lacked everything from discipline to goal scoring to a commitment to defence.
Stunning is what it’s been.
Two games into the third round of the playoffs, who expected the march of the Penguins to turn into a slide?
Horton Hears the Praise
David Krejci we know about; leading scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs and a proven big-game hunter. Milan Lucic, we know him, too. Hulking guy. Patterns his game after a wrecking ball going through a gutted building.
Now it’s the third member of the Bruins’ top line drawing the attention.
Nathan Horton is enjoying a remarkable spring. All he’s done is score goals (seven), pick up points (17) and do the right thing time after time (he’s a plus 19). He also added his third game winner of the playoffs in Boston’s 6-1 massacre of the Penguins, a contest played by one team on skates, the other in broomball shoes.
As productive as Horton has been, it’s worth remembering his career was very much in doubt after suffering through a pair of concussions. The first occurred in Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks. It sidelined Horton for the rest of the postseason. The next concussion happened in January of 2012. He missed the rest of the year, regular season and playoffs.
When Horton finally returned to the Boston lineup, it was a year after his last head injury and, as expected, he needed time to regain his confidence. But since the start of the 2013 playoffs, there has been no slowing the hard-charging Horton, and his coach can’t say enough good things about him and his linemates.
“Nathan, with some injuries that set him back, it took him a while to get going,” Claude Julien told reporters. “But he's at the top of his game right now. I've been saying this for the last couple of weeks: in order to win the Stanley Cup, you have to be playing your best hockey at this time of the year and that's what those guys are doing right now.”
99, 11 or whom exactly?
For the New York Rangers, it could come down to Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier. Both have expressed an interest in becoming the team’s new head man yet neither comes with much of a coaching pedigree.
Gretzky, at least, has four years of NHL bench experience, although he never got the Phoenix Coyotes into the playoffs. Messier has two coaching stints to his credit, both with Canadian national teams at the Deutschland Cup and Spengler Cup three years ago. He managed a second-place finish in Davos, Switzerland, which he figures is all the prep he needs to replace John Tortorella, who was fired by the Rangers last week.
Based on Messier’s logic, here’s another suggestion for the Rangers: professional agitator/fashionista Sean Avery. From the firing pan (Tortorella) into the blast furnace (Avery), this is the kind of theatre New Yorkers crave. It would be mind-blowing, for about a month, and then the Rangers would explode and spew a giant mushroom cloud over MSG.
Best to be safe and make a pitch for Dave Tippett.
Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie Corey Crawford is winning the fight, all of them to this point.
In Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings, Crawford cleanly out-dueled his counterpart Jonathan Quick, who was benched after allowing four goals on 17 shots. Asked if he wanted to be better than Quick, Crawford replied, “My focus is more on their players, what they're doing. But yeah, I definitely want to beat him.”
But Sugar Ray Crawford wasn’t content with that. When he saw Kings’ forward Kyle Clifford taking liberties with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, Crawford entered the fray saying: “The guy grabbed (Toews), got a couple free shots. I figured it was enough. I just decided to go in there and grab his head.”
From the other end of the rink, Kings’ goalie Jonathan Bernier gestured at Crawford as if to say, “What are you doing?” or “You want a piece of me?” Crawford went back to his crease and was cheered loudly.
“It’s obviously nice when they’re chanting and not booing,” he said of the ‘Hawks’ fans.