It probably isn’t the best way to watch the NHL playoffs in the context of a larger meaning. Life has no meaning, eat Arby’s. We all know this. But when the Hawks are done for this long you can’t help but let your mind wander.
Before this Penguins-Senators series, while I was wary of my prediction skills in saying that then Pens should win relatively easily, the comparison of the two teams’ rosters wouldn’t lead to any other conclusion. But the thing is this isn’t really the Penguins’ complete roster.
We know hockey is a long, tough season. It sort of prides itself on that. It’s a physical game played over six months, and then when you’re done with that everything goes to 11 and these guys are essentially slaughtering each other night after night. One injury… hell, that happens. And even the ones who make it on the ice the entire time then engage is surgery-palooza as soon as the playoffs are over for them. It’s actually tradition that we all sit around and wait to see how many and what they’re getting done. “Well this guy had a torn MCL and this winger’s shoulder fell off and our #2 d-man needs a backiotomy….”
On Wednesday’s Game 3, the Penguins were without their #1 d-man, first-line winger, third line winger, and a top four d-man as well. Their #1 goalie only just returned from injury (more on him in a second). It’s hard to beat a super-disciplined team like the Senators missing that much.
Hey, that could be just bad luck. Not every team is in pieces after one Cup run. But most players at this time are hampered in some way. And at this point, it seems a little weird to me.
Hockey has always based its appeal on the playoffs. And for good reason. The very nature of the sport, hinging on just a few moments per night, causes drama. Add bigger stakes to it and you can’t take your eyes off it. But if this is your showcase, this is why anyone should bother, then it feels like you’d want your absolute best product out during it. Not whatever’s left with whatever teams we have left.
Joe Sheehan in his baseball newsletter has been talking about this for a while. If everything is about the playoffs now, then everything should be in service of them. Of course, all the solutions for that are things that would never happen. In reality, the NHL schedule should be everyone plays everyone else home-and-away for a 60-game schedule and then we seed 1-16. Teams wouldn’t have to play more than three times a week that way, plenty of rest, less chance for everyone to kill each other. And if you end up with a Montreal-Anaheim first round with travel nightmares, fuck it. A shorter schedule would allow you to put more travel days in the playoff schedule as well.
But this will never happen, and we’ll continue to see players dragging their dangling body parts out there and doing the best they can. But as the games get faster, and the players stronger and bigger, it feels like a breaking point is arriving soon.
-Speaking of said series, it’s a big call to go to Matt Murray tonight. Let’s be clear, he’s the Pens #1 and there’s a reason for that. Still, rust has to be a factor. He’s played in 3.5 games since the end of March. If the Penguins were up, you would feel like if they end up tossing a game on a rusty Murray that’s ok. But if he doesn’t have it tonight you’re down 3-1. Sure, if Fleury were to spit it then you have a broken Flower and a still possibly rusty Murray (does that sound sexual?) and you very well might be fucked. This way, you can go back to Fleury in relief which he’s already done and he’s still sharp. Maybe it’s just to juice what’s left of the Penguins. We shall see.