Dave Molinari on the Penguins: A weekly look inside the team, the issues & the questions
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Penguins coach Michel Therrien was perfectly within his rights to complain about Philadelphia coach John Stevens dispatching his No. 1 power-play unit late in the Flyers' 8-2 victory at the Wachovia Center last Tuesday.
There's no doubt it was an attempt to humiliate the Penguins, to make a lopsided loss sting a little more.
The question is, so what?
Stevens, you see, undeniably was entitled to do what he did. For that matter, he could have replaced goaltender Martin Biron with an extra attacker as regulation wound down if he thought it was really important to try to get a ninth goal.
Hey, this is professional hockey, and these are two franchises whose feelings toward each other run the gamut from, well, total contempt to raw hatred. Think the teams would have had a round of warm handshakes and hugs after the game if Stevens had sent out a collection of slugs on the power play once the game was out of hand?
Mercy rules are for youth-league baseball. You don't want to lose 8-2, don't give up eight goals, and score more than two.
That said, Stevens' decision to send out key players in a game that had long since been decided reeked of a guy obsessed with embarrassing the Penguins as much as possible, even to the potential detriment of his team.
Now, the idea that a player might have a momentary lapse of judgment and do something to injure an opponent probably never occurred to Stevens. It's not like, say, he has had five guys suspended by the league this season for a variety of assaults and ill-conceived hits. What if one of the many frustrated Penguins had decided to vent by giving Flyers center Daniel Briere a vicious two-hander on the arm?
The offender presumably would have gotten a penalty, and probably a significant suspension. Stevens, meanwhile, would have gotten to watch one of his big-time talents spend the next month or so in street clothes. Think putting so much emphasis on getting that eighth goal would have seemed like a good idea then?
For that reason, among others, the Penguins shouldn't have griped about the way Stevens used his personnel. They should be delighted to have a guy with his priorities coaching in their division.
Stevens also nailed it when he accused the Penguins of having a discipline meltdown during the third period of that game.
They took a series of pointless, self-destructive penalties that contributed greatly to the Flyers' margin of victory.
The twist, of course, is that a few minutes after Stevens finished skewering the Penguins, one of his players turned up in a hallway outside the visitors' locker room-- which is one hallway and part of another removed from the Flyers' quarters -- and saw fit to inform Therrien, quite publicly, that he is "a joke."
That the remark came from Ben Eager, a guy who would have to get a three-level upgrade just to qualify as a non-factor, really doesn't matter.
That utterly absurd episode -- and several of those five suspensions the Flyers have been issued -- likely explains why Stevens was so quick to pick up on the breakdowns in the Penguins' self-control. He seems to get pretty regular exposure to that sort of thing.
Sidney Crosby has accomplished some remarkable things during his two-plus seasons of pro hockey, and he'll do a lot more before he gives up the game.
It might be a while, though, before he pulls off anything as stunning as what he achieved in Philadelphia, where Crosby was named the game's No. 3 star.
That's on the road. After an 8-2 defeat. When three members of the winning team who matched or exceeded his offensive output -- R.J. Umberger, Mike Knuble and Braydon Coburn -- didn't get similar recognition.
Umberger, in fact, had three goals -- his first NHL hat trick -- to go with a couple of assists. Seemed like enough to get a guy a spot among the three stars, ahead of a visitor who set up two goals.
Veteran hockey writer Rob Parent of the Delaware County Times, who picked the stars, said Umberger was a victim of circumstances. They ranged from an expected scoring change on his first goal that never was made to submitting his selections before Umberger got his third, thanks to Parent's tight deadline at his paper.
It would have been completely understandable, if picking Crosby had been a concession to the way Flyers fans adore him. Heck, barely a shift goes by some nights without the Wachovia Center crowd chanting his name. Must be that they're so appreciative of those 34 points he's put up in 19 games against Philadelphia.
First Published December 16, 2007 12:00 am