More Of The Same
If last night’s 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers looked familiar to you, that’s because it was.
It was the second consecutive game the Pittsburgh Penguins lost by a score of 2-1; the third consecutive game they scored just one goal; and the same brand of perimeter offense that resulted in just two goals against the Boston Bruins last spring during their embarrassing four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Final.
It’s not time to hit the panic button, but some alarms should be sounding alerting upper management of the issues this team has.
For starters, they’re lacking in the grit department. While it would have been difficult to retain Matt Cooke or Brendan Morrow due to salary cap issues, their roster replacements (Beau Bennett and Matt D’Agostini) provide very little in the way of physicality and certainly no snarl.
On the scoring lines, the Penguins have Chris Kunitz as the sole physical presence, and his physical game has toned down with age.
Few are capable of going to the dirty areas of the ice, specifically the front of the net, and even fewer are willing to attempt.
The book is written on how to defend this team, and Flyers demonstrated that perfectly last night. Clog the middle of the ice and force those perimeter shots to come from a distance. As long as the goalie sees the puck, no one will be around for a rebound.
Not every team will attempt such a strategy against the Penguins during the regular season, and not every team will be successful in holding down their immensely talented forwards. But when the playoffs roll around, all bets are off, as we learned against the 8th seeded New York Islanders in the opening round and re-learned against the Bruins.
But as bad as the lack of gritty play is, what might be worse is the maddening desire to make every play look pretty.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I much prefer wins over perfectly-executed, highlight-reel goals.
And yet the highly skilled Penguins — specifically when icing a fully-healthy roster — insist on over-passing and skipping shots to make it look better.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying.
I highly doubt the players discuss how pretty they can make their goals. I highly doubt they discuss how many consecutive passes they can make. And I’m certain they don’t discuss avoiding what results in scoring chances.
It’s a subconscious thing that has spread across the roster, leaving few players innocent.
Accordingly, blame should be placed at the top, with the coaching staff, who inexplicably have neglected to correct a problem that has existed with this team for years.
Dan Bylsma and his assistants, to their credit, have adjusted and simplified the defensive game, resulting in a much-improved goals-against stat. But, for whatever reason, the same cannot be said for an offense that is like Jekyll and Hyde, operating either on feast or famine mode.
As they say, learn from your past or you’re doomed to repeat it.
It’s early in the season, and a three-game losing skid hardly will show up on the radar at season’s end, but without a change in philosophy and strategy (and quite possibly personnel), this team will finish in embarrassing fashion once again, as it has every year since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.