“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
This perfectly describes the team that is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sometimes when watching them they seem to be an un-stoppable force and other times they are the JV hockey team throwing around ill-fated passes and a dump and chase that is more dump than chase.
For fans this might be the most frustrating thing on the planet. It’s a team that sometimes looks destined to go deep into the playoffs and other times it’s a team that looks like they might not even show up for the playoffs.
So which is it? What team is the Pittsburgh Penguins? The simple answer? Both. The more difficult answer? It depends.
When they get behind in a game their frustrations become clear. Easily avoided penalties, terrible turn overs and barking at refs just to name a few. Even last night it was obvious that they were overthinking in the first. A turnover that should have never happened on a power play lead to a short-handed Coyotes goal. As a result? Three shots in the first period by the Penguins against a team that is more comparable to a high school team playing an NHL team. A perfect example of the self-destruction.
Fast forward to the second period. 21 shots on goal, Penguins take the lead and never looked back. What changed in between? Their mentality. Yes, this is a team that they should beat but “team they should beat” strongly depends on which Penguins team is playing.
They are talented. They have no reason to struggle as much as they do sometimes. This is all true. Yet, we all have mental blocks when we get frustrated and apparently the Penguins consist of a team that becomes so blocked when losing that they can barely function.
And don't misunderstand. Every team has some warts and rough edges but it’s about hiding them and smoothing the edges out. They will never be the perfection that some expect. They cannot go 82-0, win all scoring titles and win the Cup yearly. It also isn’t what they need to be. They just need to figure out how to stop falling apart every time they hit a bump in the road.
Typically Cup winning teams are not the flashiest but rather they are built to last. They are not pretty. They also do not shoot pucks at refs when their team is down.
A lot has been said about what is going on with them. A lot of guesses and assumptions have been made from everyone including myself. It would be interesting to see the team meet with the same sports psychologist that Fleury had dealt with. Could it help? Maybe. Would it hurt? Probably not.
If I had to guess I would say the issue is almost certainly mental. The players seem to get along and the relationship with Johnston does not appear to be strained. I just think that the Penguins have always had high expectations and when they do not meet those expectations it's all downhill.
Whatever it is they need to fix it now. A bad game would damn this team in the playoffs. They cannot handle it.
I still remain optimistic about what they can be. They just need to figure out how to be the self-confident and energentic team that they used to be. And then? It can truly be the best of times again.