Puck Daddy - NHL

Assessing the opening night panic from the teams upset during the Stanley Cup Playoffs' curtain-raiser on Wednesday:

1. Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) Is Imploding Before Our Eyes

The Pittsburgh Penguins goalie was supposed to calm all the chatter about whether he was a big-game performer by flashing the Stanley Cup ring on his finger. But he wasn't steady last night, and the Ottawa Senators pounced on him for five goals in their Game 1 win. From Craig Custance of Sporting News:

No, there's nothing he can do when a puck takes a crazy bounce off the boards and ends up in the slot for an easy Senators' goal, like it did for Chris Kelly(notes).

But we've seen Fleury stop all of the other goals he allowed in the opener. He usually makes the big save when his team needs it while battling back from a deficit. On Wednesday night, it didn't happen. He was battling out there. He was scrapping but there was never a point where he looked comfortable

Coach Dan Bylsma was charitable after the game about Fleury's effort, which including a Snuggle-bear soft goal to noted sniper Jarkko Ruutu(notes). But that was a stinker for Fleury.

PANIC TIME? A little. There's always the chance that a Game 1 struggle will spill over into Game 2, but Pensburgh points out that Fleury's been resilient this season:

Marc-Andre Fleury's been pulled from 8 games this season, which unfortunately gives us a pretty good sample size to look at how he bounces back.  And it's encouraging: the game after his roughest outing Fleury is 5-1-1, 2.84 GAA and a pretty stellar .918 save percentage.  Fleury's next bounce back start will be the most important, to this point in the season anyways.

He showed the same attribute in last year's playoffs. Still believe the guy has Osgood Syndrome and will snap into shape in the playoffs.

2. The Detroit Red Wings' Penalty Kill

The numbers heading into the playoffs made the Phoenix Coyotes' 3-for-4 night on the power play seem like a preposterous oddity: Phoenix was on an 0-for-20 stinkfest with the man advantage, while Detroit had killed 53 of 59 previous opposing power plays.

But the Coyotes were a respectable 4-for-14 against the Wings' PK during the regular season; is this just a favorable matchup for Phoenix? Here's Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart(notes) in the Freep:

"Our PK kind of let us down tonight, which is disappointing because it's been so good lately," Brad Stuart said. "Yeah, they won some face-offs, but they were really just putting the puck on net, and had some good results. We've got to find a way to counteract that." 

The numbers reinforce that: Henrik Zetterberg(notes) was 2-for-8 on defensive zone faceoffs and Darren Helm(notes) was 4-for-10. Both saw time on the PK last night against the Coyotes.

The other issue for Detroit was its inability to slide over and make key defensive plays on guys like Shane Doan(notes) in front and on Derek Morris(notes) at the point, who had time and a clear lane to Jimmy Howard(notes) on the game-winner.

PANIC TIME? No. The Red Wings' PK suffered a hiccup last night, and seeing Phoenix score another three power-play goals in a game this series is as unlikely as seeing Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) bleeding profusely from the mouth and the Red Wings failing to receive a power play for it. Wait, what?

3. The New Jersey Devils Power Play

The Devils trailed 2-0 in the third period to the Philadelphia Flyers, but had six minutes of power-play time (including a double-minor for high-sticking on Oskars Bartulis(notes)) to get back in the game.

They failed. Miserably.

New Jersey managed two power-play shots in the third period, often times failing to establish anything but their own disorganization in the Flyers' zone. Ilya Kovalchuk's(notes) game was as forced as Kevin Eubank's laughter during a Leno monologue. Their passive play in front of Brian Boucher(notes) was indicative of the rest of their night offensively, according to Fire & Ice:

They fired only 24 shots on Brian Boucher tonight. I know they only gave up 14, but 24-some of them not very hard and a few that barely reached him after being blocked-is not enough.

He did make some good saves, such as that glove save that left Ilya Kovalchuk shaking his head in the first period, but didn't get to net enough or get to the rebounds he did leave.

"We could have tested him more, got a few more shots, get more traffic," said Travis Zajac(notes), who scored the Devils' only goal. "You can always do a little more of that. The scrums we did have, we didn't get the bounces going our way.

PANIC TIME? Absolutely. The power play looked putrid last night in going 0-for-4, and that can't happen against a Flyers team that was third in the NHL in times shorthanded (335). The Devils are going to get power plays. They have to at least use them to create positive momentum, if not goals on the board.

4. The San Jose Sharks Are En Route To Another Choke Job

Sharks fans nervously booed their team at times in their Game 1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and it was warranted. San Jose was outhustled by a feisty Colorado team and outworked when it mattered in the third period: Chris Stewart's(notes) game-winner was the result of the Avs controlling the zone against the Sharks' defense.

Here's how Fear The Fin saw the loss:

San Jose defenseman would either botch a breakout pass or hit a forward standing at the halfboards who refused to move his feet. Against a team that stacked five men in the neutral zone all night it was equivalent to a self-inflicted gunshot wound-- the Sharks were unable to generate the speed in the neutral zone necessary to beat that defensive alignment, and instead were content to whip low dump-ins around the boards where Craig Anderson(notes) calmly played the puck up to his waiting defensemen.

This is one of the issues that plagued the team during the Anaheim series-- an unwillingness to alter execution that is not working. There were few Sharks who realized that a high cross-ice dump to the far corner is the best way to beat this system if San Jose as a whole is having trouble moving their feet through the neutral zone, especially when one considers how well Anderson played the puck tonight.

Joe Sacco was asked after the game if the pressure was even more enormous on the Sharks now. His reply:

"The first game's an important game," Sacco said. "Let's not kid ourselves. But there's still a long way to go. Again, I go back to we're the eighth seed, they're the one seed and certainly not a lot of people are giving us a chance in the series, and the pressure is on them.

"I thought we played to our identity tonight right from the drop of the puck. . . . Even when they tied it 1-1, I liked our composure. For such a young team, I thought we did a really good job of staying composed for the most part, and we stuck to the gameplan."

PANIC TIME? There's something to be said for the Avalanche's composure in this game and during the latter part of the season, but the Sharks hardly put forth what can be considered an A-game effort last night. There were more trouble signs in that Game 1 loss to Anaheim last season than there were last night. Their offense hasn't warmed up yet and it will. This could still be the 5-game series win for San Jose many predicted.

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