It’s a Hockey Night in Pittsburgh – Game 4

Hey, I told you this series was far from over. Game 3 was just another example of the resilience of this Penguins team. From top to bottom, the Pens’ roster is filled with talented hockey players. Eventually, the players like Kris Letang, Ruslan Fedotenko and Evgeni Malkin were going to wake up.

After three frenetic games, this series is starting to take shape. Ahead of tonight’s Game 4, let’s talk about what we know…

This Varlamov Kid is Good…
Say what you want about Simeon Varlamov – maybe he’s a flash in the pan – but his rebound control is excellent.  He has been steering shots into the corners all series long while Marc-Andre Fleury has been kicking shots out into dangerous areas in the slot.

And if you watch Varlamov closely, his goaltending style is really interesting. His hybrid stance is half stand-up and half butterfly. He imitates the sort of “hover crouch” technique used commonly in dodgy porta potties and fast-food restrooms around the country. 

But Now The Penguins Know How to Beat Him…
The Penguins need to start harassing Varlamov by putting bodies in front of the net. Goalies can’t stop pucks that they can’t see. In Game 3, Varlamov let in a relatively harmless wrister from Evgeni Malkin because he was staring down Bill Guerin’s badonkadonk. Even on Kris Letang’s game winning goal, Varlamov was screened by a teammate.

Jordan Staal needs to stop gliding around in the high slot and get his 6”4, 220 pound frame into the crease, because at this point Staal’s playoff performance has been about as rousing as an episode of CBS’ “Numb3rs.”

 My Pictures66America, Do You Like Doing Math? Numb3rs: Homework Comes to Prime-Time.

The key to Game 4 is simple: traffic. If the front of the Capitals’ net looks like the Parkway East tonight, the Pens can even this thing up. The dirty secret to this series is that the Caps’ defense is softer than a Goose Down Comforter on four-and-a-half inches of memory foam. So, as I was saying…hold on, I need a nap. 

Recently Updated38Pulling No Punches will return after a word from our sponsors.

Versus Perpetually Annoys
Speaking of commercial breaks, Versus’ marketing of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been pretty solid. I love the Every Second Counts commercials. But I do have one complaint: Do hockey fans really need 38 reminders per game that the Red Wings and Ducks play tomorrow night at 10:30, only on Versus?

During a crucial moment at the end of regulation in Game 3, the Versus announcers were busy promoting the next night’s Blackhawks/Canucks series instead of showing a replay of Pascal Dupuis’ game-changing interference penalty.

Look Versus, this phantom mainstream hockey audience you’re clamoring for doesn’t exist. Hockey fans are a diehard, niche market, and they know when the games are on. It’s the playoffs! The games are on every night, at night, on the same channel. Period. Versus could cut costs by running one promo per game, like this:

Recently Updated37A Reason to Worry
I’m going to suggest something radical: Since the Penguins are the home team in Game 4 and are permitted to make the last line change before faceoffs, we should never see Hal Gill and Alexander Ovechkin on our television at the same time, unless the Penguins are killing a penalty.

Gill has been very solid in penalty killing situations when his responsibility is to stand relatively still and a) push opponents away from the net and b) block shots. However, when the 6”7 defenseman actually has to skate around the full length of the ice in 5-on-5 situations, Ovechkin has abused him. He’s simply too slow.

This presents a conundrum for Head Coach Dan Bylsma, because Hal Gill’s defensive partner, Rob Scuderi, has been magnificent in one-on-one battles with Ovechkin. Scuderi has stayed in front of Ovechkin and forced him to the outside, making his infamous snapshot less effective.

Hockey isn’t like basketball, where you can assign a player to shadow someone. NHL Defensemen are responsible for “sides” of the ice, and unfortunately for the Pens, Ovechkin has started to gravitate toward Gill’s side.

In a perfect world, Bylsma would shuffle the defensive pairings for Game 4 and put Mark Eaton, another shutdown defenseman, with Scuderi. Eaton and Scuderi can’t totally stop Ovechkin, but they can slow him down, deflect his shots, and ultimately frustrate him. Why not pair two of the best shot blockers in the NHL against him?

Complacency is the Pens’ worst enemy. Yes, they won game 3, but for the first two periods, it looked as if their season might be over. Ovechkin has scored five goals in three games – that’s not evidence that the Pens’ defensive strategy is working. If Ovechkin is skating circles around Hal Gill tonight, don’t say I didn’t warn you. This matchup is not working.

Take a Knee – It’s Pep Talk Time
And now, Pulling No Punches introduces a new segment – Pep Talk Time! In true blog fashion, here are our pithy, motivational one-liners for the Penguins ahead of Game 4:  

Matt Cooke – Play better.

Chris Kunitz – Stop over-checking and win the puck.

Jordan Staal – Breathe.

Sergei Gonchar – Dude. Please. Come On.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Stop acting like you don’t know where the puck is – it’s giving us a heart attack.

Tyler Kennedy – Start playing like you’re not yourself again.

Petr Sykora – Hide inside your goatee and don’t come out until the playoffs are over.

Max Talbot – It’s just a game, dude. Settle down.

Hal Gill – Skate a bit faster.

Pascal Dupuis – Maybe try not to hit the net? I don’t know. You’re on your own.

Evgeni Malkin – Repeat after me: “Geno Angry. Geno Angry.”

Sidney Crosby – Watch this YouTube clip for inspiration on giving your pre-game interview. History beckons you, Sid.

Go get ‘em, boys.

Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the game, and thank you for your continued support of Pulling No Punches.

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