Mehno: Path to Cup not easy for Pittsburgh

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — The 82-game, 185-day play-in round is finally over.

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight with the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG Paints Arena.

Some thoughts on the match-up:

n The Penguins swept the four games in the season series, but that might be a bit deceiving. Two of those wins came in overtime. The Flyers had just two fewer points than the Penguins through the regular season. This isn’t as one-sided as it might appear.

n If the Penguins are to win a third consecutive championship, their toughest competition will again come within the Eastern Conference. These things are cyclical, and the East is loaded with good teams.The Penguins will have to beat three of them.

n Philadelphia has more speed than past Flyers teams have had. This is a trait that has given the Penguins trouble this season because their defensive corps has changed.

n Biggest concern for the Penguins is defensive depth. If they have any injuries on the blue line — and some are almost inevitable through the long grind of the playoffs — it could be troublesome.

n The other concern is the lack of experience behind goalie Matt Murray. It was an incredible luxury to have Marc-Andre Fleury in reserve, especially last year. This year’s back-ups, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry, have never played in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

n That isn’t to say that either back-up couldn’t steal a game here or there if necessary. It’s just a tall order if either had to contribute the kind of extended run that Fleury did last spring.

n The Penguins acquired Derick Brassard primarily for his skating ability and his reputation as a postseason player. He will be returning from a lower body injury, believed to be a groin problem. Will he be at full strength? We should find out soon enough.

n Evgeni Malkin has had a fabulous season. The key to a good postseason will be his ability to skate away from confrontation. Malkin can often lose his temper and wind up in the penalty box. Opponents know this and will try to goad him into penalties. Who can do that better than the Flyers?

n The pick here is the Penguins in six. Their firepower should overwhelm the Flyers’ less-than-stellar goaltending.

Under construction

There’s a multi-year renovation going on at Wrigley Field.

If you watched Tuesday’s Pirates-Cubs game on TV, you may have noticed that the expanded Cubs’ dugout is almost down the left field line now.

They’ve added more seats and a video scoreboard to go with the vintage hand-operated board. The Cubs’ clubhouse has been expanded, and the bullpens were moved off the sidelines (maybe to make room for the dugouts).

One feature that hasn’t changed yet is the closet-sized visitors’ clubhouse. When rosters expand in September, teams almost have to have their players dress in shifts.

The visiting team’s clubhouse also has a door that leads directly out to the first base stands. Sometimes that door gets opened at inopportune times and it doesn’t always get noticed.

The Pirates were there one time when the door was wide open after the game. Fans were leaving the park, and the players were showering.

Fans got a full look into the clubhouse. Not all of the players were wearing towels.

Mehno can be reached at: johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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