Composure Exposure: Negative Play Dooming Penguins

Photo Courtesy of AP/Yahoo Sports

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

Wondering why the Pittsburgh Penguins are behind three games to none in their first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers?

A five minute stretch by Chris Kunitz late in the second period helps to explain.

With 7:30 remaining in the second period and Pittsburgh trailing by only one goal, Kunitz dragged down Flyers rookie Eric Wellwood. With the puck ten feet away on another player’s stick. Kunitz went to the box for tripping, but it could have been called interference. Or hooking. Or even holding.

Two minutes later, Matt Read would score to make it a 5-3 game.

But Kunitz wasn’t finished with his stupidity. Far from it, in fact.

Pittsburgh would receive a gift goal courtesy of an Ilya Bryzgalov mistake with less than five minutes remaining in the period to cut the lead to one yet again. And immediately, the momentum shifted. Suddenly, the Flyers were unable to move the puck out of their own end. The Philadelphia net became a shooting gallery, and tired Flyers could not get off the ice.

Then Kunitz, parked in front of the Flyers’ net and angered by Braydon Coburn’s crosschecks, slashed the defenseman across the leg. Up went the referee’s arm.

“My assessment is that there were three or four penalties on the play on both players and the referee called the last one on Chris,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma noted after the game.

Was it a bad call? Probably. At the very least, both players should have been sent off. But taking a penalty in the offensive zone, with all of the momentum favoring your team?

Of course, Wayne Simmonds would score on the ensuing power play, and Pittsburgh would never seriously threaten again.

Two penalties, two power play goals. Game essentially over.

It goes beyond the late hits, intermittent boxing matches and endless chirping. As the Broad Street Bullies proved in the 1970s, a hockey team can play dirty and still be successful.

But a team can not play stupid.

“We have to be the ones that stay disciplined,” Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “I thought we have been doing a pretty good job at it. Obviously, it looks like they are not.”

Bylsma seems to understand that his players let their emotions get out of control in Game 3.

“We don’t want to be involved in [extracurricular activities] against this team.  We want to stay whistle to whistle and minimize the amount of penalties in the game – not create those scenarios.”

On the other hand, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby remained defiant.

“You know, there is more than one team getting in those things so you can make a story all you want about us getting frustrated. We are playing playoff hockey and they are doing the same things we are. It’s intense and you can say that we got frustrated but we didn’t.”

Crosby’s comments gloss over the key difference between the Flyers’ chippy play and that of the Penguins. The Flyers are not letting a lack of composure spill over into their overall playing style. The Penguins are.

“I don’t know why you would change your game for the playoffs,” Timonen said. “If they think they are going to win that way, go ahead and do it.”

After three games and three straight losses, it’s becoming obvious that the Pittsburgh Penguins can not win that way.

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