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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Pittsburgh Penguins: No Heart, No Balls by @ExcitedBobErrey

No Magical Wizard Can Fix What Ails This Penguins Team

The Pittsburgh Penguins, at least the version that won the Stanley Cup in 2009, were not only a young team but one known for having a great locker room presence. Such a great presence that veteran Billy Guerin, a noted prankster, could fit right in and provide a needed leadership presence. The team was a young, tight-knit group that played a tough, rugged game under Michel Therrien and continued to compete their hardest when Dan Bylsma took over. Those 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams overcame the odds and doubts to win back-to-back conference titles and a Stanley Cup.


However, it seems that the locker room culture that was a such a integral part of those Penguins teams making SCF appearances has disappeared along with the team's ability to win playoff series. Michel Therrien has long since moved on, and it seems that many of the defensive teachings that made such an impact on that young team have gone with him. Defensive breakdowns have happened with varying frequency for the Penguins over the years, but bringing in Jacques Martin was supposed to fix those issues. The foundation for a strong team defense was supposed to be put in place, and that foundation certainly wasn't supposed to be crumbling around them against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Defenders are giving Blue Jackets players almost free reign through the slot, with Jack Johnson going so far as to taunt the Penguins through the media about how much space he had. A poor effort on the backcheck certainly hasn't helped, nor has the team telegraphing extremely low-chance passes the Blue Jackets have been able to transition the other way and attempting lazy behind the back passes to nobody in particular.



The biggest problem isn't that these things are occurring; it's that these problems occur and continue to reoccur game after game. The players face the media, and quite correctly point out their errors and what they need to do to get better, but those post game interviews never seem to translate to on-ice improvements. The shocking lack of leadership and accountability displayed by the entire team is readily apparent in all of the offensive zone penalties, selfish plays trying to force a highlight instead of making the smart play, and a seeming unwillingness to do the things that need to be done to win in the postseason. The apathetic way the team can show up to games, put forth a full effort only occasionally, but not very often, and most importantly allow their teammates to make selfish mistakes that hurt the team suggests that this is a group of players that doesn't care.


It's fine to lead by example, but when players wearing the letter are making poor decisions and putting the team in bad spots in transition and defensively it's not sending the right message. It's fine to be vocal, but when the vocal leaders are those who need to step their game up the most it rings hollow. But the lack of leadership isn't just limited to the players. The coaching staff continually dresses players who hurt the team with their on-ice play.  They harshly punishing younger players for mistakes while letting veteran players off the hook. When they do call out someone for a mistake in the post game, it's always an easy target. Crosby or Malkin continually make bad drop passes or ill-advised passes behind the back? Nothing for Bylsma to comment on, but if Jokinen has one or two that's fair game to explain how he needs to be better. These double standards don't fix mistakes; the reinforce bad habits and send a message to players that if they make a certain salary or have been in the league a certain amount of time that they're beyond reproach.


As bad as things seem on the outside, the reality is that it's most likely much worse behind the scenes and off the record. When asked about Craig Adams being benched during his weekly chat, Dejan Kovacevic had this to say:



If that's true, it's a more damming indictment against the organization than anything we've seen on the ice. But for the past couple years now the front office has seemed to be on a different page than the coaching staff, and same with the players as well. If there's a player causing problems like that in the locker room, they need to be removed from the organization, especially if it's someone whose on-ice play has been completely awful. Whether the blame needs to fall on the players, Ray Shero for assembling this group, or Dan Bylsma for not being able to control his team, there are major issues with the Pittsburgh Penguins that aren't likely to just go away.


Because fact of the matter is that despite several players on this team having their name on the Stanley Cup, this isn't a bunch of champions. Whatever they learned about what it takes to win during the SCF runs in 2008 and 2009 has long been forgotten, and clinging to the glory years doesn't change where this team is at right now. Because they're champions in name only now, and no amount of past Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold Medals, or individual accolades can change the present. Championship teams have heart, desire, and the will to do everything to win. They give their all and ensure that when they bow out, they go down fighting, and the other team has earned every bit of their victory. This team never developed that in their game, and all the selfish penalties, short fuses, and half-assed efforts are proof of that. Not only do they seem to believe they can just flip the switch and dominate games, they're too lazy to do even that much and hope the sheer amount of talent on the roster is enough to squeak through to the next round.

Basically the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Postseason

The 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins are the Washington Capitals with a Stanley Cup on their resume. Don't like the analogy? You shouldn't, because it's accurate. It's a group of highly paid individual talent that doesn't know, or doesn't care, how to win when it matters most. In the 4 postseasons since the Stanley Cup win this team has won 3 series, and they're trying their damnedest to make that number 3 in 5. And yet, there are no consequences, no repercussions, and no efforts from those in charge to change things. They continue to exert the minimum amount of effort necessary and are damn lucky to be facing the Columbus Blue Jackets and not the Detroit Red Wings or the Philadelphia Flyers. They have glaring holes in their game that are almost assuredly being laughed at in the opposing dressing room, and despite telling the media what needs to be done about those problems they're still present.


It doesn't even matter as much anymore about whether to fire Dan Bylsma or not. He's a good coach, but he needed to be sent packing after last season. The players seem to love him, but they've made it abundantly clear that they cannot handle playing for a player's coach. They don't have enough self-motivation and cannot keep their emotions in check and their games where they need to be under Dan Bylsma. But getting rid of Bylsma, no matter how well deserved, isn't going to matter if the team culture isn't fixed itself. Players need to be held responsible, both by themselves and the coaching staff. Constantly making the same mistakes cannot be tolerated, and there desperately needs to be a respected veteran presence brought in that is willing to butt heads and take charge, because the leadership void on this team right now is extremely noticeable. Playing time needs to be earned by talent and production, not solely based on being a veteran player.


Bottom line is that this team is a hot mess right now. Even the amount of star power in the lineup is unlikely to overcome some of the deeply rooted issues in the current team culture. And it's a damn shame, because having two generational talents in the lineup at the same time gives this team a chance to contend year in and year out. But it's being wasted by a toxic dressing room and a coach completely incapable of managing this team. These players play like they don't give a shit if they win or lose, nor do they seem to have enough respect for their teammates to stop making the lazy and irresponsible mistakes that can be so easily avoided. There's a strong sense of arrogance and entitlement permeating throughout the organization that it's almost impossible to pinpoint where it starts, but it needs to be scrubbed clean before this team can seriously contend for the Stanley Cup again. Because no matter how many players remain from the 2009 team, this isn't the same team. Not even close.

6 comments:

  1. Been saying this for two seasons now. It is shocking how a team with this much talent just doesn't give a shit.

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  2. This is freaking me out because it's the exact argument I laid out to friends this a.m. I must not be as crazy as they think if I'm not the only one making these points.
    Today, I told folks that when people make comparisons between Sid/Geno and Ovechkin this summer, they'll be right. No one wants to believe that, but there's nothing telling us that's not true anymore.

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  3. coaches have shelf life... they ALL do (see scotty bowman, he's been fired too). enough is enough ...any reason a horrible effort last night warrants a day off?? & god forbid we get J.Martin as head coach... Im a MTLer & i saw the shit hockey he coached here. Passive, boring, no forecheck & no physicality ... prepare yourselves accordingly!

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  4. Why is the locker room toxic? Is every Pen injured? Anyone know? Maybe the Olympics were the peak for some players this year, sad...

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  5. Fleury's the only player that cares. His play has shown that through 4 games. Why? IMO, Fleury knows if this TEAM fails. He'll be the one to pay the price. Think about this. If the goalies switched... Fleury on the Jackets. Bobrovsky on the Pens... With the way Jackets have played through the 4 game. Do you think this series is over, now? Because I do.

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  6. I only have 2 things to say: Matt Cooke

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