Is there a guide out there that details how one handles the seemingly annual disappointment that has become of the Pittsburgh Penguins? If so, can someone please send me a copy?
I've had almost two weeks to deal with the embarrassing sweep the Pens suffered at the sticks of the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately, I have more questions than before.
First, what happened to the leadership of this team? In the past two playoffs, we have witnessed this team coming unhinged at critical times. Last year they did it in Game 3 against the Flyers, this year is was Game 1 against the Bruins. It's like the team collectively loses its mind for a few minutes and don't recover.
Just as Kris Letang's game misconduct in Game 3 last year, Malkin decides to drop the gloves when the Pens had a power play heading into the second period. Seeing as Malkin is a key to the power play's success, he needs to not take a penalty there.
Where was captain Sidney Crosby when he should have been trying to calm Malkin? He was getting into it with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and goalie Tuuka Rask. Now, a bigger deal has been made of Crosby jawing at those two players but the fact remains it was unnecessary. I don't care if he got punched in his recently shattered jaw by Chara. That's hockey. Guys take cheap shots in every scrum.
There was so much made of the team acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, who were captains of their teams. Yet I didn't see much leadership from any of the Pens players in the Bruins series.
Second, what happened to the offense? This was a team scoring more than four goals a game in these playoffs. Then they go and score only two goals in four games. What?
You have to give credit to Rask and Chara. They played very well. But the Pens also made them look better. Malkin was flying, especially in Games 3 and 4, yet no one on his line was there to knock home a rebound from the chances he created.
While Malkin seemed to create offense every time he touched the puck, the same could not be said for Crosby. The greatest player in the world was shut down. When he had the puck, you didn't get a sense something was going to happen. He just looked like another player out there.
Aside from Malkin, Matt Cooke was the only guy on offense that seemed to bring the level of play it takes to win a Stanley Cup.
Third, why does Letang fall apart in the playoffs? I've read a lot of media folks and bloggers ripping his Norris trophy nomination. He deserved that nomination. He played great during the regular season and it was very noticeable when he wasn't in the lineup. But in the playoffs, specifically the Eastern Conference Finals, he was all kinds of bad. Either he was getting caught up in the offensive zone, making poor passes in his own zone or just appearing lost.
The man has so much talent, but he clearly does not have the mental game needed to be a standout defenseman (defenceman for you Canadian readers out there) in the postseason.
Fourth, how much was coaching and how much was players not performing. While I have been a critic of head coach Dan Bylsma the past few two seasons, this playoff loss was not on him. He made the correct call in going back to Tomas Vokoun in for Game 3. He made the right decisions with the lines and had this team in position to win. It wasn't Bylsma missing open nets, hitting posts or making stupid passes from behind the Pens net.
No this series fell on the players.
Fifth, did Ray Shero hurt the team's chemistry with his trade deadline moves? This is actually an easy one for me. The moves Shero made improved this team. Period. Yes, Morrow, Iginla and Douglas Murray were slower than the players they replaced, but they made their lines better. Just because Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale skate fast doesn't mean they would have beat the Bruins.
Seventh, what does this team do next season to avoid the disappointments of the past few years? Bylsma is coming back, Malkin has been resigned to a huge contract and Shero and Bylsma have come out and said Marc-Andre Fluery will be back. The Bylsma and Malkin extensions make sense, but saying Fleury is the starter has me confused. As much as I love him, and have defended him in this space for years, he has fallen on his face the past two years. He, like Letang, succeeds in playoffs and has a mental breakdown when the playoffs come around. The team needs to move on at goalie.
So once again, what direction does this team go in for 2013-2014? It seems like there aren't any major changes coming. Fans will see some new wingers, as Morrow, Iginla, Pascal Dupuis and Cooke can't all come back. But the core will remain.
Or will it? Letang could be traded away before the start of next season, and he should bring back at least a top prospect, first round pick and maybe a NHL-ready player. And with the organization's abundance of little Letangs running around in the AHL and juniors, it makes sense. He will demand $6-7 million per year, and the Pens just can't afford that.
Thank goodness the team has Shero to make these decisions, because they are tough questions and he is the best GM in the league. He's certainly smarter than me. So once again it comes down to in Shero we trust. Right?