There has been absolutely zero media outlets that you can look at that doesn’t mention Marc-Andre Fleury or the Penguins’ defense as starting points for what’s gone wrong for the Pens this postseason. Cheap shots and shenanigans aside, giving up eight goals in back-to-back games is going to get you nowhere.
But to let Fleury shoulder the blame just because he’s not saving games the way he was back in February is bogus. The same goes for the defense as a unit; sure Kris Letang is playing like a 12-year-old and Paul Martin is playing like toast, but Zbynek Michalek leads the team with a +3, and Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland may not be shutting the Flyers down, but they’re hardly to blame for the Pens’ gaping 0-3 hole.
When it comes to the forwards, all people want to talk about is how Sidney Crosby has somehow failed as a captain (we don’t see it…), how Geno Malkin has disappeared and how James Neal has lost his mind. But no one has touched on the fact, that the Pens’ best defensive forward, who’s supposed to help keep Philthy’s offense in check has been MIA in his own end.
Jordan Staal has been a Selke candidate, he’s the Pens’ best two-way forward and he’s one of the leaders of their now-failing penalty kill. But he hasn’t looked like any of that this series…not even close. Staal may have four points (2 G, 2 A) through three games but the Pens rank second in the NHL with 4 goals per game (second to only the Flyers, of course); they don’t need offense, they need Staal’s defense. And it just hasn’t been there.
This is nothing new. Staal’s responsibility in his own zone has been slacking all season – by his standards – and it was his lack of positioning that really led to the turn of this series. In Game 1, Staal should have had Brayden Schenn marked as the Flyers busted into the Pens’ zone on the power play but Staal never came close to Schenn and he made a B-line to the net to tap in the tying goal. Then in overtime, Staal was pretty much holding hands with Jakub Voracek but still let him tap in the game winner because he decided to play the stick instead of the man.
Game 1 is in no way completely Staal’s fault; the Pens fell apart as a team. They decided to coast through the final 42 minutes just because they built a three-goal lead in the first period. But Staal was to blame for the final two goals that Fleury had no chance of saving. And with the way Game 1 ended, it changed the entire feel of the series.
As soon as Philthy scored that game winner my stomach dropped; I couldn’t help but be pessimistic. Turns out I had good reason to be. But I don’t doubt that Staal could turn things around in the little time the Pens have left. I hate listening to Pens fans talk about how terrible Staal is because he doesn’t produce the points the rest of the top picks from his draft class do – the Pens have Sid and Geno…Staal isn’t supposed to be scoring 40 goals. He doesn’t even use the same length stick that he used to simply so he could have longer reach in the defensive zone.
But it’s hard to defend Staal right now with the way he’s playing, even when fans are talking about dumping him the minute the season ends. I’ll wait until the season is actually over before I start chipping apart the iceberg because of this meltdown. But there are going to be more and more people jumping on the “Trade Staal” wagon if his current play continues.
His faceoff percentage is down six points between the playoffs and the regular season, and after Game 1, Staal has been on the ice for half of the goals scored against the Pens. In the last game, Staal was on the ice for four goals; one was a shorty by Max Talbot but on the other two, it was Staal’s man that finished the play.
The blood of this ******** is on the hands of every Penguin that has stepped foot on the ice in this series; Staal couldn’t have changed the series alone. But in the times when the Pens have need him the most, he’s been invisible on defense – even when he’s been right there – and that just can’t happen to the Selke guy Staal’s supposed to be.