After the Pittsburgh Penguins Game Seven 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Jordan Staal summed up how it felt by saying,
"It's not easy. It's not something that tastes right. It doesn't feel good."
Here are some reasons why the Penguins have been left with a bad taste in their mouths heading into the offseason.
Dan Bylsma was out-coached by Jacques Martin
Throughout the series the Penguins continually tried the same things over and over. They tried the long pass out of their zone to wingers standing at the Montreal blue line. When that option was taken away they would resort to leaving the puck for Malkin or Crosby to skate it into the Canadiens zone.
Montreal's assistant coach and former NHL player Kirk Muller did a great job of pre-scouting the Penguins style of play. Through this he was able to assist the rest of the coaching staff formulate a game plan to beat Crosby, Malkin and company.
Simply put the game plan was to eliminate Crosby, Malkin and Staal as offensive contributors in the series. They did this by playing them man-to-man and always having at least two players within a sticks reach of each of these special players. They also did an effective job of clogging the neutral zone with four Canadiens players so that these three players could not carry the puck into the Montreal zone easily.
Without Crosby, Malkin or Staal on the score sheet that would leaving the scoring to the Penguins wingers. With all due respect to Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Chris Kunitz. None of the aforementioned names are elite scorers by any means. They are all solid NHL players, but they are not game breaking talents.
Too many giveaways by the Penguins best players
There were 28 giveaways commited by the trio of Kris Letang (12), Sergei Gonchar (9) and Sidney Crosby (7) through the seven game series with Montreal. In comparision the highest amount of giveaways for a Montreal player was Hal Gill at five give aways in the seven game series. As a team the Penguins gaveaway the puck 54 times compared to Montreal's 37 giveaways in the series.
Jaroslav Halak was a better goaltender than Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins had 227 shots compared to the Canadiens 173 shots in the series. Through seven games Halak posted a 0.927 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average. While his counterpart Fleury, whom was pulled from Game Seven after allowing four goals, posted a 0.892 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average.
Was fatigue a factor for the Pittsburgh Penguins?
When asked if playing two long seasons of making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals both times was a factor team Captain Sidney Crosby had this to say,
"I'm not going to sit here and complain about playing Stanley Cup Finals and Olympic gold-medal games. That's a good problem to have and you have to deal with it. There are times when it is a grind and you have to deal with it. By no means is that any excuse or any reason for anything. I would never blame that on anything. Those are great things to be a part of and you have to find a way to still produce and be successful."
Jordan Staal had these words to say about the subject,
"You can make that an excuse if you want, but I think as a team, we felt pretty fresh."
In my opinion playing that much hockey does have a physical toll, but these are professionals we are talking about here. Fatigue is not a worthy excuse for being out-worked by an opponent in the NHL.
The Montreal Canadiens found a way to shut down Sidney Crosby
I have not seem him look so frustrated or outwordly emotional since his rookie season in the NHL. He was offensively suffocated by the Canadiens game plan leaving him with one goal, four assists, a minus one rating and four penalty minutes in seven games against Montreal.
Normally he is the type of player that has the magic to step up his game and provide timely goals for his team. Unfortunately for the Penguins and their fans he just did not have the magic or the support from his teammates in this series.
For anyone thinking that Crosby's play could have been affected by an injury, when asked if he was completely healthy his response was simply, "Yeah."
Some other news on Crosby, a few hours after his team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Team Canada General Manager Mark Messier called to ask him to replace the injured Ryan Smyth at the World Championships. He declined the invitation to play for his country, but can you really blame him after just finishing a long season including the Winter Olympics? I cannot.
Also, it seems as though Crosby will finally be moving out of Mario Lemieux's home. After living with the part-owner of the Penguins since his rookie season in 2005-06, Crosby has finally purchased his own home in the city of Pittsburgh.
The final word
Give the Montreal Canadiens credit, as they have now knocked off the President Trophy winners (Washington Capitals) and the defending Stanley Cup Champions (Pittsburgh Penguins) in the first two rounds of the 2010 NHL playoffs.
Essentially this series win by the Canadiens comes down to an effective game plan, great goaltending, and perhaps a stubborness of the Penguins to not make more adjustments to their own game plan to counteract the Montreal system.
Player quotes courtesy of NHL.com