Saturday, December 17, 2011

GTOPG: The Onus Has Shifted; Pens Lose 6-4

By Finesse

There is no amount of spin that will make last night's loss any easier to stomach.  There are no injuries severe enough to excuse a 5 goal second period, and no amount of bad luck that can account for four points from Jared Cowen.  The Pens played like garbage, something that's becoming quite common this month, and even though they showed some degree of heart and toughness in coming back from a couple deficits last night, that heart and toughness was pretty much just Chris Kunitz standing in front of the net blocking Alex Bald's vision.

At the beginning of the season, we gave The Onus to Jordan Staal, writing:
So as he enters his sixth year in the league (at only 23-years-old), he's finally set up to answer the question that we've been wondering for a long time: what is Jordan Staal? Is he what he has been the first five years, a guy who can put up around 50 points but probably should be no better than your 2nd best center? Or, is he a guy who was sacrificing for his team, but stands poised now to have a break out year statistically (breakout for him would be 60+ points)? At 23 and with six years experience, it shouldn't matter anymore that he might be playing behind Sid and Geno: take the reins Jordy, and score 25/35 (at least) no matter who is out there. Do that, and we might forget that the three picks immediately after you in 2006 were Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel.
But now, like the rest of the roster, Staal is hurt.  While The Onus stays with him rain-or-shine, we're frankly so frustrated with the injury situation that we don't even care about our One Season-One Onus policy.  That's right, we're reassigning The Onus.  And to us, there's only one candidate.

The Pens roster is a mess right now.  Everyone is hurt, was hurt, or is going to get hurt.  There was a 50/50 chance that Fleury was going to catch gout in the third period last night.  But despite the injury woes, the Pens roster is talented enough to, at the very least, not give up six goals to Ottawa.  The problems the Pens are experiencing as a result of their injuries go beyond the X's and O's and the strain on the organization's depth chart.  There are very good players capable of stepping in for all of the injured guys -- and they've done so.

The much bigger issue is that it finally seems like the Pens' spirit is starting to wane.  The year-long uncertainty surrounding Crosby -- uncertainty that is showing no sign of letting up -- the constant shuffling of lines and D-pairings, and the revolving door to the training room has, at least from the outside, given this season a different feel.  One of resignation, not optimism.

Bylsma is the reigning Jack Adams winner as the league's best coach.  He has 4 months of practice from last year shuttling guys from Wilkes-Barre to the big club not just to ride the pine, but to run the point on the power play.  But unlike last year, things are getting to the point where expectations have to shift -- there is no more waiting around for the bad luck to change.  The Pens have to make it change and that starts with Bylsma.  He can't make guys healthier, but he can make sure the team doesn't feel sorry for itself.  We believe that he can do it, and there's no coach we'd rather have in this scenario.

If Bylsma can do that, if he can get the team to keep shrugging it off -- well, that's the stuff that Jack Adams is made of.

Jack Adams also made of this sweater.
It's only Decemeber, so the most important thing is for the Pens to show no signs of panic.  That's the least of our concerns, because Bylsma and Shero are big-picture guys.  But sometimes we are guilty of being overly dismissive of the regular season, which at GTOG is often just a defense mechanism we use when we don't feel like talking about a loss.  For the Pens, December is a time to refocus on the details and, no matter who is in the lineup, figure out where this team wants to go in the future.

Does it want to linger in the middle of the playoff-pack and just hope that the injury luck turns around by April?  Or does it want to look at itself and say "you know what, we can still be the best team in the East?"

That's the question Dan Bylsma has to answer.  And that's why he has The Onus.

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