Collier: Illogical signs lead the pack
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Perhaps at some highly illuminating point in Game 4, the Penguins and/or the Lightning will produce some legitimate, logical, hockey-based physical evidence that finally explains what's going on around here.
A week into this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, a forensic psychiatrist would have a better chance of evaluating the motives for its first three episodes than a hockey writer, and the way forward looks darker than a North Tampa biker bar.
I'm tempted to advance the notion that it's all come down to signage. In fact, I will.
Inside the Lightning dressing room at the St. Pete Times Forum, a prominent sign reads PACK MENTALITY. The Penguins, because you can leave no potential edge undeployed, travel with their own signage, and the one taped to the TV in their room here reads PACK OF WOLVES MENTALITY.
So that explains it, right?
The Penguins, due to superior sign specificity, lead this series 2-1. Therefore, spare me your hockey-based evaluations, particularly the ones that sprout every April from the importance-of-special-teams section of hockey's perennial playoff landscaping.
Dan Bylsma's team has the worst combined power play and penalty killing in the NHL playoffs to this point, and still finds itself just 60 good minutes from taking a choke hold on the opening series tonight.
"I think there are certain aspects of the power play in general that you need to have to have success," Bylsma began Tuesday when I asked for still another plausible explanation for 0 for 15. "There have been times when it hasn't been one particular part of the power play that's been poor and not led to success. In Game 2, it was different, I think, than in Game 1 and Game 3. In a lot of instances, we were better in Game 3 in what we needed to do. We had some things in the end zone that we did well. But in terms of looking to understand where we can improve and what we can try to do on the ice, that's something we're always trying to get better at and something we're focused on, especially when you play the same opponent seven times in a two-week span."
Of course, if they were getting anything at all out of the power play, they might be able to shorten that span considerably, but there again, that's trying to introduce logic to an illogical system. Someone pointed out Tuesday, for example, that the Lightning has outscored the Penguins 7-3 over 178 minutes, 57 seconds of this series' 180 minutes. In the remaining 63 seconds the Penguins have won 4-0 and taken control.
"Control" being used with the utmost caution.
But unless you're thinking that Arron Asham will continue to shoot 50 percent, some adherence to the game's basic playoff premises might still be the more prudent course.
"I felt like it was working the other night," Jordan Staal said of a power play that generated five shots while Steve Downie was off for delay of game in the second period. "We still need it if we're going to create momentum. We're always talking about the importance of special teams, so you just hope to continue to focus on that and remember to do your best on it every night."
It was little short of a miracle that the Penguins could be credentialed for this tournament with a power play that had scored just 15.8 percent of the time (25th in the league) in the regular season. It was an actual miracle that the Nashville Predators sneaked in with a 15.2 percent success rate, but at least the Predators pumped in four power play goals in their first 16 playoff opportunities.
Bylsma went back to the grease board at center ice during Tuesday's practice, then barked "power play breakout," for the next drill, for which the head coach found himself shouting, "No, no, that way. That way!"
That the Penguins literally don't know which way to go on the power play is a situation that only grew worse after Game 3 with the one-game suspension for Chris Kunitz, who elbowed Tampa Bay's Simon Gagne in the head in the first period Monday night. Tampa Bay's Downie drew an identical penalty for trying to knock Ben Lovejoy into Tampa Bay five minutes earlier, but Downie's absence is not going to hamper the Lightning power play, which came into this series as the conference's best and hasn't been slowed a bit by the Penguins' usually superb penalty killers.
"I just think the lesson our power play can take [from Tampa's] is that it hasn't been real pretty," Bylsma said. "You talk about a very good power play, one that's scored the second-most goals in the league, [and] I think we immediately look to seeing passes and one-time shots and all of the things we think of with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they have not gotten [goals] that way. They've gotten them with wrist shots to the net and having men at the net and winning that battle with [Gagne] and [Vincent Lecavalier] and [Martin St. Louis] converging. They've been very good at that."
Good idea right there. I don't think anyone's forgotten that the way to present a great power play is put great players on the ice. Evgeni Malkin, however, is not an option, nor is Sidney Crosby, even though he's closer.
Sid was seen in the Forum corridors this week carrying a basketball. I'm presuming he has been cleared to shoot foul shots.
First Published April 20, 2011 12:00 am