Saturday, June 8, 2013

Pens fall to Bruins, 1-0; Season ends with a whimper

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

[Listen to the Game 4 recap podcast below or on our Spreaker page. You can click here to subscribe on iTunes, or download the Spreaker app for iPhone or Android]

If pucks could talk, Jarome Iginla's wrist shot at the final buzzer would have let out a feeble whimper as it landed almost apologetically in the glove of Tukka Rask.  It was a fitting and symbolic end to a series the Pens deserved to lose and the Bruins deserved to win.  Now armed with a body of work that reads like an inventory of a losing team's most-favored excuses -- a hot goalie, injuries, a bad goalie, and no good bounces -- the Pens have another long offseason of soul-searching ahead.

Read on for the burial...

When a team loses in such a spectacularly disappointing manner, the brain can pull you in two opposite directions are the same time.  There's the reactionary "fire everybody, Crosby sucks" approach, and then there's the "I'll just wait a few weeks and let this pain fade away so that when I decide what changes I want to make I will have tricked myself into thinking we were just a few bounces away" method (aka, The Full Leonsis).

The truth for Ray Shero and the Pens is somewhere in between, but he'd be wise to not waste the opportunity that comes with having your team so thoroughly embarrassed for the world to see.  Though the systematic errors are glaring and the individual failures are spectacular, the common thread that binds the last four playoff disappointments was woven at the Herm Edwards School of Simplicity: the Pens don't do the right thing often enough.

It's less important what that right thing is, and much more important that the Pens either can't identify it or can't do it.  The Pens started the Eastern Conference Finals playing the right way, but couldn't sustain it when it turned out that Boston was not going to be like Ottawa and pour the accelerating lubricant for the Pens' glide into the next round.  So the Pens stopped playing the right way for the next 5 periods and instead dug the first three feet of their own grave.  And once the Pens identified the problems in the way they played in games 1 and 2 and tightened up defensively, they could not, shot-differential be damned, consistently generate anything resembling the high quality scoring chances that the Pens would need to beat a locked-in goalie like Rask.  The Pens may spend the next few weeks feeling sorry for themselves for not catching a single break over 8 periods in Boston, but that would obscure the fact that the Pens rolled over when things didn't come easily in games 1 and 2, and couldn't persevere in games 3 and 4 once they finally seemed to grasp the idea that winning playoff games is supposed to be hard.

The Pens would have eventually broken through on Rask had they continued to play the way they did in games 3 and 4, but you don't get an "eventually" in the playoffs.  And, given this team's track record of mixing random slices of inexcusable chaos into their discipline sandwich, what indication is there that the Pens could have sustained their overall solid performances in games 3 and 4 anyway?

It doesn't matter what might have happened in a game 5 or if the Pens had taken the lead at any point in one of these games because they didn't.  It doesn't matter if the Pens were playing the right way when they went out because they went out.  By design, the playoffs require excellence across a small sample size; whether the Pens were trending in the right direction when they went out is irrelevant.  There's already a trophy for trending well over a large amount of time.

Comfort food for GTOG.
It's an indictment of everyone in the organization that the Pens went out this way, so it's hard to pin more blame on any one person than it is on another.  Ray Shero's acquisitions didn't get the team any further than it would have gone without those guys, and it's easy to argue that getting both Morrow and Iginla stagnated a team that simply didn't need both of them.  It's great to have a fancy shoe collection, but you can only wear one pair at a time.  Dan Bylsma added to an ever-growing resume of presiding over inexplicable performances, and when he finally recalibrated his team in one area (defense), he seemed to do it at the expense of another (offense).  Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Letang had no points in 4 games, and while that will almost certainly never happen again over any future 4-game stretch, it still happened.  And the supporting cast, supposedly the deepest in the league, didn't hold the fort while the stars got it together.  It was a total failure by everyone.

Last night's game was exciting only because it was meaningful -- if that game happens in December, it's a total snooze fest, the kind of game where if you DVR'd it, you'd actually get mad at your roommate for NOT spoiling the score and warning you against spending three hours watching it.  It's admirable (and appreciated because we watch all 82 games of it) that the Pens try to play hockey the way most people want it to be played; you know, with actual goals and excitement.  But the Pens have to be careful not to martyr themselves as the paragon of the way hockey should be played.  Because while it might be nice to enjoy the spoils of the afterlife -- like the MVP and Norris Trophy that could be coming in a couple days -- the bottom line is that you're dead.


  1. Guys, great stuff on the podcast..
    I do think the Pens should at least consider a new coach. It is no about losing on the playoffs, but how they lost. This was the 3rd season in a row that the Pens dropped 3 games in a row in the post season. Bylsma is stubborn to change his tactics, since they do work on the regular season. But once again, the Pens lost three games in similar ways in a row... Boston trapped the Penguins all series long, preventing the stretch passes, and the Pens fail to adapt to it. The forwards were always standing in the blue line, while the defenders were trying to make something happen, and it almost always ended up in a bad dump, and the forwards had no speed to go after it. That was a big reason why they didn't have good scoring chances, and the Pens did not change their game plan, even though it was clearly not working. Not once they tried to regroup in the defensive zone, and enter with speed, with the forwards helping the defenders, much like the Bruins do.
    And I don't buy this "we had the chances" bullshit. The only game we did have the chances was game 3... The other ones, Boston did a great job in limiting the Pens chances, and taking away 2nd opportunities.
    And now, with several good coaches on the market, the Pens need to consider a change.
    About Fleury, I would guess there are a couple of teams that would be willing to trade for a stanley cup winner goalie, who is still young. I think the Pens may trade him, but I don't think they will buy him out.

    1. Hard to argue with any of this. Thanks for reading!

  2. Really enjoyed the podcast. I do have one question though, why is Crosby an untouchable player but malkin isn't?? What is the justification behind that argument?

    1. Because Crosby is significantly more valuable to the franchise than Malkin is. He's the guy who guarantees the team national relevance, marketability, and sell-outs, and those things are what enable ownership to spend up to the cap. As great as Malkin is, he has a fraction of the relevance that Crosby does and a lot of the attention he does get is because people watch the Penguins ... which they do because Crosby is on the team. The Pens won the Crosby lottery, he lived with Mario -- he's the guy they've hitched their wagon to for 20 years. Plus he's already signed (so there's cost certainty), and he re-established himself this season (still at only age 25, no less) as the best player in the league again. Malkin has had one really good regular season since 2008-09.

      None of this is to suggest that Malkin isn't great, or even that he isn't as good as Crosby. But Crosby's value goes way beyond what happens on the ice, and even if we thought that Crosby shouldn't be untouchable, the fact is that he is untouchable so there's no real reason to even discuss it.

      Malkin is GREAT. We love Geno. It's just that if the Pens had to choose one guy (and they don't), that guy would be Crosby. The Pens quite literally won the lottery when they got Crosby. They aren't trading him back in. And nor are we suggesting that the Pens definitely should trade Malkin, but they should at least, quietly, get a sense of what he'd be worth on the market. Just cause you have your house appraised doesn't mean you have to sell it.

  3. Excellent podcast and great post. However, there are a couple thoughts I have pertaining to what was mentioned in the podcast.
    At one point you seemed to scoff at the idea of Morrow and Iginla having been brought into the lineup to provide some leadership, saying that Crosby has been leading the team. During the playoffs, however, I feel that Crosby (Malkin as well) lead the team only in the sense that they wear the C and A on their jerseys. Obviously, we don't know what happens in the locker room, but on the ice:
    -Crosby chooses terrible times to take stupid penalties and Malkin follows suit. It's the end of the period and they both jump into some after the whistle bullshit? Yeah, I'd expect that from rookies, but both of these guys have been playing long enough to know better, especially when the next period would've started with the Pens on the PP.
    -Even when Crosby isn't having a "Better prove I'm a badass instead of an elite athlete" moment, if Malkin is frustrated, he takes stupid penalties on his own, as do a few other players.
    This is really where my frustration with Crosby comes into play. I understand that no one is perfect all the time, but I don't recall watching Yzerman or Messier have joint meltdowns with their teams. When someone was playing stupid or hurting their teams' chances, those captains put them back in line. I'm not saying Crosby needs to rip his teammates to shreds when they screw up, but he's got to rattle their cages a bit if that's what it takes to keep them in check.
    I know it's great for the franchise to have his adorable face representing it, but man...would love to see him act like he realized that wearing the C is more than just a nifty jersey accessory.
    Who knows, maybe Crosby isn't cut out to be that kind of leader, but if he isn't, someone needs to step up and make guys accountable for some of the avoidable nonsense they get tangled up in. I don't often notice Byslma doing this, though in his defense, the cameras don't really linger on the benches all that long.
    So I guess what I'd like to see the most next season is stronger leadership. Hopefully what I just said makes some sense--I'm posting on the go so I apologize for any spelling/grammar errors.

    1. Thanks for all your support this year, Alicia.

      There's no question that the meltdowns do not reflect well on the leadership of 87 and 71. The point I was making on the podcast about bringing in Morrow and Iginla was that Sid and Geno have reached the age where the Pens shouldn't need to be considering the leadership abilities of guys they bring in. If the team in fact does that (and I'm not sure they do, which is why I said on the podcast that this might be a media-driven narrative), then it would indeed be an indictment of 87 and 71's leadership.

    2. You guys always have my support. :)
      GTOG is the only Penguins-related site/Twitter that I follow.