OK, guys…what do you do for an encore?
“Where did we leave off?”
You had “swing once, swing twice, swing again, swing another time, pop it into the air, swat at it…nothing but net.” That means you’re up, Alex…
“OK…skate in, put puck through defenseman’s legs, pick it up spin, dive, send wrister through goalie’s legs…nothing but net.”
“Hmm… OK, try this… skate up ice… go to forehand… go to backhand… turn defenseman around… spin-a-rama… backhand top shelf… nothing but net.”
“That’s pretty good… now, skate backward over blue line… take pass… raise stick for slapshot… wait for defenseman to go down to block shot… curl puck around him… shoot wrister off crossbar and behind goalie…”
“Oh, so that’s it… we can use props? Try this… pick up puck at center ice, skate to blue line… snap pass off Pierre McGuire’s scalp… dive and poke puck past goalie’s pad… nothing but net.”
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… I got Mike Milbury… skate past him… tell him ‘still not getting a haircut’… backhand pass off his microphone… pick up own pass… skate on goalie… get tripped… slide face first… still get blade on stick… poke puck through goalie’s legs.”
Alex, I thought you might try that move you made in Phoenix. You know the one.
“Try once, make once… no one can do that again.”
Sid?... you wanna try it?
“What, are you kidding me?”
Well, the series might not quite be a simple game of H-O-R-S-E between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but there is a certain, “anything you can do, I can do better” quality playing out here, even after only two games.
Ovechkin, four goals… Crosby, four goals
Ovechkin, two PP goals… Crosby, two PP goals
Ovechkin, plus-1… Crosby, plus-2
Ovechkin, 21 shots… Crosby, 11 shots
Ovechkin, 44:45 in ice time… Crosby, 46:38 in ice time
Ovechkin, six hits… Crosby, two hits
Ovechkin, 100 percent on faceoffs… Crosby, 45 percent on faceoffs (ok, Ovechkin’s only taken three draws)
Ovechkin, two blocked shots… Crosby, two blocked shots
Get the point?
The two have done a lot to cancel each other out, which put a premium on the guys not getting interview requests from every media outlet this side of Bumpuckistan, and that brings us to…
Evgeni Malkin, two points… Alexander Semin, two points
Malkin, minus-3… Semin, plus-1
Malkin, eight shots/no goals… Semin, five shots/no goals
Malkin, two giveaways… Semin, two giveaways
Malkin, one takeaway… Semin, six takeaways
You might say that neither “sidekick” (and we’re talking about a Hart Trophy finalist being a “sidekick”) has been heard from to any large degree. And that brings us to…
Jordan Staal, no points… Nicklas Backstrom, three points
Staal, minus-2… Backstrom, minus-1
Staal, 50 percent on faceoffs… Backstrom, 37 percent on faceoffs
Staal, no takeaways… Backstrom, three takeaways
Staal, three blocked shots… Backstrom, one blocked shot
Staal, one hit… Backstrom, no hits
Not a lot of difference there, although Backstrom seems to hold an edge. What about the old guys…
Bill Guerin, two points… Sergei Fedorov, two points
Guerin, plus-1… Fedorov, plus-2
Guerin, two hits… Fedorov, one hit
OK, what about…
Sergei Gonchar, two points… Mike Green, one point
Gonchar, plus-1… Green, even
Gonchar, nine shots… Green, one shot
Gonchar, no giveaways… Green, six giveaways
Yup, Green could stand to step up his game – at both ends of the ice. But then there are…
Brooks Laich/David Steckel/Matt Bradley against… well, the 13 Penguin skaters not mentioned above...
21-39-10: 2-2-4, +6
13 other Penguins: 1-4-5, -9
21-39-10: 12 shots on goal
13 other Penguins: 41 shots on goal
21-39-10: 13 hits
13 other Penguins: 31 hits
21-39-10: six takeaways
13 other Penguins: eight takeaways
21-39-10: two giveaways
13 other Penguins: nine giveaways
21-39-10: 26-12 on faceoffs (68.4 percent)
13 other Penguins: 10-15 on faceoffs (40.0 percent)
Crosby and Ovechkin have been the entertainment; Malkin and Semin, Staal and Backstrom largely a standoff to this point. But the Laich/Steckel/Bradley trio has raised their level of play. They have been more than the sum of their parts to this point.
All this is prelude, though. There is a real simplicity to this game that sometimes gets lost, and in this series it comes down to this… Marc-Andre Fleury needs to be two goals better than he has been. In two games – both one-goal affairs – his counterpart Semyon Varlamov has made two game-changing saves (one in each game). The first was the paddle-on-the-goal-line save of a Sidney Crosby shot in Game 1 that got a lot of attention. But the save he made in Game 2 on a Sergei Gonchar slap shot, coming on the heels of a pad-save on Crosby at the left post, was every bit as much a game changer, getting his glove on a drive and deflecting it over the cage at the 18:01 mark of the first period with the Penguins already holding a 1-0 lead. If the Penguins had taken a two-goal lead into the first intermission, the game could have ended much differently.
Fleury, on the other hand, has been very good...at times. He has stoned Alex Ovechkin on several one-timers from Ovechkin’s perch in the left wing circle. But he’s saved only 52 of 59 shots faced (.881) in this series. And here is the really ominous part for the Penguins -- he's been under .900 in save percentage in each of his last four games, back to the last two games of the Flyer series (.882, 97 saves on 113 shots). He’s twice been on the wrong-side of one-goal results…he has to be two goals better than he’s been. Crosby and Ovechkin will trade haymakers throughout the series – they’re that good. But if Fleury doesn’t pick up his game (not to mention the chorus of Penguin skaters who have largely been unheard from), the Penguins will have a hard time winning, however sublimely Crosby plays. But Fleury is now wondering about the stick of his nemesis -- Ovechkin. Who is getting in whose head here? Perhaps Fleury needs to worry more about stopping pucks than the curve of a stick.
If you’re looking for something out of the Penguins tonight, here it is…in his last 15 games at Mellon Arena, Evgeni Malkin is 8-14-22. If he’s going to snap out of his funk, you’d think tonight would be the night. If he doesn’t, well…
Given the way the 21-39-10 line has played so far, we’re thinking he won’t. So…
Caps 3 – Penguins 2