Monday, April 16, 2012

We've got to get right back to where we started from

It's been a while since I last posted to The Fritz Blitz. Another winter has come and gone, and it seems as if the Pittsburgh Penguins' season is about to end as well.

As I write this, the Penguins are down 3-0 to the hated Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Pens ended their regular season with their strongest play in quite some time, punctuated by the return of the best active player in the NHL, Sidney Crosby.

After going up 3-0 in the first period of the first playoff game, the Penguins' play has been embarrassing. The series has been marked by bad turnovers, a Swiss-cheese defense, a nonexistent power play and a general lack of discipline.

In the penultimate regular season matchup between these bitter rivals, there was an altercation between Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette and Pens assistant coach Tony Granato in which Laviolette accused the Pens of sending goons in toward the end of the game. It was a ridiculous charge because the fourth-line players on the ice at that time were all legitimate scoring threats.

It appeared in Sunday's third game that the Penguins were trying to prove Laviolette right.

There was Aaron Asham's cross-check and punch of Brayden Schenn in the first period, resulting in a game misconduct. There was Craig Adams' penalty and automatic suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of the game. And there was the general atmosphere of a game that resembled a scene from Slap Shot.

The pundits, never big fans of the Penguins, seem to have abandoned them. This morning's recap on the NHL Network emphasized a fight between Crosby and the Flyers' Claude Giroux, coupled with an absurd quote from Laviolette, who thinks that two of the best players in hockey beating each other's heads in is somehow good for the game. The Flyers, long known as the NHL's bad boys, are coming off as the good guys to everybody outside Western Pennsylvania.

Wednesday night is the Penguins' last stand. It's hard to come back from an 0-3 deficit, but it has been done before. The Pens can do this, but it will take the best hockey they've played all season. If not, I can forget about La Coupe Stanley and go back to handicapping the Kentucky Derby.