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Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Cultural Issues of the Penguins by @highheelshockey

We know how terrible the defense has been. We know how lazy the back-checking has been. We know how utterly pathetic the power play has been. We know that Marc-Andre Fleury has become the pariah of the Penguins organization. We know that Sidney Crosby is still stuck back in the Ottawa series, searching for his way to the Boston series.

But issues of the x’s and o’s and effort aside, the Penguins have deeper issues that I believe are responsible for what is looking to be a fourth failure in a row in the playoffs.

1. Head Coach Dan Bylsma

The Jack Adam’s Award winning “Player’s” coach. The coach everyone in the NHL wants to play for. The coach that brought the Penguins to the Stanley Cup…or did he?

The Penguins did not win playing for Dan Bylsma. They won the Cup under the influence of Michel Therrien and with the discipline that he instilled in the team. Since Bylsma has taken the helm, the Pens have lost their discipline. Straight up. They don’t perform for him in do-or-die situations. I don’t know what is going on in that locker room, but I am guessing that the man hasn’t had a very strongly needed Bruce Boudreau or John Tortorella moment. They do a bang up job of blatantly ignoring his system and skating/coasting around like the officials are going to hand them a win just for showing up.

Everyone gets a trophy!

Bylsma is too soft to coach this team of superstars. Right now the patients are running the asylum. He doesn’t make adjustments as he claims he will. He just seems to look at a roster sheet and say “Okay, they want me to make adjustments…well I can’t do that without consulting my crystal ball.”

Additionally, the shunning of our very talented rookies this post season (okay and in the regular season), has left Bylsma with very little options with the roster from night to night. These guys aren’t ready for playoff hockey because they weren’t groomed to be there for 48 games. Last night, it was apparent that Beau Bennett has sat FAR too much in the past month-not because he had a bad game, but because we all saw sparks of what a phenomenal talent this kid is going to be in the NHL if he would just get the ice time to tailor his game.

2. General Manager Ray Shero

Yeah. That guy. The guy who pushed all of his chips in and started hoarding captains league wide at the trade deadline.

At the time, I think we all felt like “Holy sh*t. We got Jarome Iginla! Oh my God, did Shero really just get all of these guys! JUST GIVE US THE CUP!” We were absolutely enamored by these gifts he bestowed upon our beloved team. I know I was. Jussi Jokinen? I wanted Jokinen a LONG time ago. I couldn’t have possibly been more tickled to get him in a Pens sweater.

However, the Yankee Method of building a championship doesn’t work in hockey they way it does in baseball. It takes a different type of chemistry and methodology to put together a hockey team. If you’re familiar with my individual blog and Twitter feed, you will know that I have probably at this point overstated that it doesn’t take superstars to win a Cup. I have argued that the Pens don’t need Sidney Crosby to win a Cup (the past few playoffs are proof of that!). They need the right combination of players who bring certain skills and styles of play that will mesh well together, as well as the collective identity of a team that wants to win together.

The problem I see with what Shero has put together now that we’ve had some time to observe and take it in, is that while we are overwrought with superstars, the structure of the team is failing. This team lacks chemistry. You cannot put Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal on a line together and expect high production. Why? Because Iginla and Neal don’t play in a way that compliments the other. Iginla’s on ice-needs cancel out Neal’s and force Neal to make adjustments that he is clearly uncomfortable doing.

Our defensive pairings don’t always work out. We have a million offensive defensemen and not enough guys who will stay put and protect their goalie and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Retreating constantly back into the neutral zone or having to carry the puck all the way back out is killing these guys.

Shero delivered a gift and a beautiful gift it was- but the pieces are turning out to be square pegs and the Pens lines are round holes. I honestly don’t care if any of the guys we acquired last year are back after free agency begins because they may not be the right guys to build a Cup team.

3. Egos

These guys need knocked of a rung or two. The Pens don’t play like a team that knows that they are capable of losing, even when they do their best to self destruct. They don’t know how to play in desperation or with any sort of hunger for holding 35 pounds of silver high above their heads.

How do they play? To put it in the words of Pascal Dupuis, they play like a team who believes all of the media, league, and fan hype about how they are the best team out there. On paper, the Pens are absolutely the best team out there. My God. We have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, AND Jarome Iginla. We really do have the Yankees of the NHL. But maybe the talking heads and John Tortorella are right: maybe these guys are nothing more than a bunch of arrogant, whiny superstars.

The Flyers series last year may have proved that early on, as we watched our Captain self-destruct and allow the rest of the team to blow up around him. (And what did Dan Bylsma do to turn that piss-poor attitude and performance around?)

These guys know how talented they are. They know how hard their numbers dominate, but plain and simple they believe that the Cup should just be delivered to Consol so they can start taking laps with it. If they didn’t believe that, they’d play with some humility and discipline. They’d play like a team who has the heart of a champion, but the knowledge that they are disposable in these playoffs at any minute.

The culture of the locker room has got to change for this team. That is going to mean administrative moves and overhauling some of the roster-more of the roster than anticipated at free agency.

The Penguins need a new identity and a new perspective if they are ever going to taste the glory of Lord Stanley’s grace again. They cannot be “Sidney Crosby’s Penguins.” They need to be something else. Something greater. Something bigger than the name of a superstar, an award winning coach and a legendary owner. They need to be a collective. Right now, they are lost.

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