Rangers Give Penguins the Boot – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Rangers Give Penguins the Boot

While watching the Penguins fall to the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Tuesday night my friend and boss, Dave Wright, turned to me and said, “The Pens are missing something, aren’t they?”

pp0484Truer words were never spoken.

It wasn’t that our boys didn’t give their all. Unlike Games 5 and 6, when the Pens’ battle level was tepid at best, they poured everything they had into a pulsating 36-shot effort. In the end, like a college student who crammed for a final exam at the last minute, it was a case of too little, too late.

Or to quote Tom Barrasso after the Pens were stunned by the Islanders in a Game 7 back in 1993, “We put ourselves in a position where anything could happen and the worst did.”

Give the Rangers credit. Down 3-games-to-1, they dragged themselves off the canvas and found a way. And in Game 7 they were at their opportunistic best. Matt Niskanen’s turnover in the neutral zone just minutes into the game led to Brian Boyle’s goal off a jail-break rush. With Niskanen serving a tripping penalty early in the second period, Brad Richards beat Marc-Andre Fleury on the power play for what proved to be the series-winner.

In between, Jussi Jokinen rifled a loose puck past Henrik Lundqvist to ever-so-briefly pull the Pens even. It was all the offense the black and gold could muster against “King Henrik,” who withstood a furious third-period barrage to preserve a 2-1 Rangers victory and add to his reputation as a big-game performer.

And now? While New York moves on to play the winner of the Boston-Montreal series in the conference finals, the Penguins face an offseason rife with uncertainty.

You’ve got to feel for coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero. In the wake of a fifth-straight playoff exit at the hands of a lower seed, they’re sitting squarely atop the hot seat. Decisions must be made regarding a number of key free-agents-to-be, including Jokinen, Niskanen and long-time stalwart Brooks Orpik. Is Fleury—very good but not great against the Rangers—our goalie of the future? What about the lack of size and toughness that contributed to the team’s demise?

One thing is certain. Change is in the wind.

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  1. Eskay's Gravatar Eskay
    May 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Rick, I’d say that Fleury absolutely was great in this series. 2 shutouts, just above a 2 GAA, and I’m pretty sure the fewest goals allowed by a Penguins goalie in a 7 game series. Ever. And that is with game 5 which was a mess all the way around, not just in net. But the thought surrounding the team for the past few years was that the Pens would “go as far in the post season as Fleury could take them.” This year that proved innacurate.

    One of the things that always annoyed me with Bylsma’s defensive approach (especially in front of the net), and I feel was a microcosm of the softening of this team over the last few years, was that they taught defenders to front when a man was in the crease and play stick-on-puck rather than clear the crease. That constant traffic, and the near refusal to do anything about it, certainly doesn’t make it any easier on a goalie and it makes it easier on opposing teams to impose their will in the Pens end (where their play is inarguably inept).

    Phil, do you really see Letang’s contract (despite its NMC/modified NTC) as worse than the albatross that is Scuderi’s contract? As much as I liked Scuds v1.0, I can’t stomach 3 more years of v2.0. Not only is he a slow liability when on the ice but the money should have been spent on other areas of need (depth at wing) and it keeps our already overflowing abundance of young, affordable, high pedigree blue liners in the AHL or scratched and wearing suits instead of sweaters.

    Last night was rough, and I thought about little else for most of today but the more I wrestle with it, the more I’m ok with what happened. Not the loss or the way they played, but that good or bad at least changes will be made. I’ve been resistant to these changes until recently, but at least we won’t be covering up deep issues any longer.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      May 15, 2014 at 12:05 am | Permalink

      Nice to hear from you, Eskay.

      Like you, I’ve thought of little else but the Penguins today. It would’ve been great to reach the conference finals. And I think a Canadiens-Pens matchup (with Bylsma-Therrien as a back story) would’ve made for a heck of an entertaining series. So close…and yet so far.

      Yet I agree that it’s better in the long run for things to work the way they have. While I feel for Dan Bylsma (he seems like such a good guy) I think we need a different voice and a fresh approach. At times during the second half of the year he seemed to be more a commentator than coach. The same issues keep recurring over and over again. Despite his considerable regular-season success, you can’t ignore the playoff disappointments.

      I, too, was dismayed by the Pens’ ever-increasing lack of physicality, both in our own end and in the attacking zone. I know Bylsma’s system is predicated on moving the puck as quickly as possible. But you’ve got to be able to grind it out, too, especially in the postseason. Ultimately, the Pens were ill-equipped to do that. They kind of reminded me of a football team with three deep threats at wide receiver, but no Hines Ward-type to make the tough catches over the middle.

      Changing subjects, I’ll agree with you that Fleury had a great postseason. Aside from the unfortunate mini-meltdown versus Columbus, he was cool, sharp, and focused. His positioning and fundamentals were more sound than I ever recall. The work he did with Mike Bales really paid dividends.

    • May 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Eskay, The difference between the Letang and Scuderi contract is that Scuderi is tradable. There are many teams that would take an experienced defenseman @3.3m. There is not a GM in his right mind that would take Letang @7.2m. Holmgren probably would have since he was never in his right mind, but he’s no longer GM.

  2. May 14, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Crosby looked like he had something wrong. He was skating slow. First thing I do is relieve Shero of his duties. If Shero drafted players to pick up where the exiting gritty players left off this doesn’t happen. The Letang contract is the worst contract I have ever seen.

    I wonder about Bylsma though. The fastest winning coach in the NHL will have a coaching job the second he is let go. Washington will scoop him up in a second. He can only play the players he is given.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      May 15, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      You and I differ somewhat in our opinions. I’m more on the fence about Shero. I think he’s made a ton of good trades and generally has done well in the free-agent market, although I agree that some of his recent moves have really handcuffed the team. Don’t know what he was thinking when he signed Scuderi to a 4-year deal.

      His drafting and player development—areas where he was supposed to shine—have been spotty at best. On the plus side, we’ve got some decent young defensemen in the system. On the down side, he’s really struggled to draft NHL-caliber forwards. And a lot of our potential picks have been traded away for rental players.

      I do think it’s time to replace Dan Bylsma. The magical ’09 Cup run aside, his considerable success during the regular season hasn’t translated to the playoffs. Twice in the past four years the Pens have blown 3-1 series leads. His players seem to make the same mistakes over and over again. There are signs that his message is falling on deaf ears.

      Still, I felt badly for him during the postgame interview on Tuesday night. I can only imagine coming home from a really bad day at work, finding the media waiting at my door, and being forced to answer questions about whether or not I thought I deserved to be fired. God bless him.

      Regarding Sid, I’m guessing that he might’ve been worn down from playing a full season, plus the Olympics. I wonder if he’s ever fully recovered from the effects of the concussion/neck injury.

      • May 15, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Wow. I thought you of all people would want Shero gone. He took our team from gutsy gritty playoff contender to a bunch of pansies.

        The spotty at best drafting has brought us 3 players in 8 years of the Penguins draft under Shero that have played over a hundred games in the NHL. One of those players he didn’t sign and that player went on and signed with the Kings. One of those was the no brainer pick, Jordan Staal. My bet is that’s probably the worst draft record in the NHL over the last 8 years.

        As for the great trades, I’m beginning to wonder if he is finding diamonds in the rough or if the players are simply having that “Warren Young” effect from playing with Malkin & Crosby.

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          May 16, 2014 at 12:12 am | Permalink

          Hey Phil,

          I don’t think you’re giving Shero due credit on his trades. Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin, Hal Gill, Marian Hossa, Georges Laraque, Jussi Jokinen, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Gary Roberts, and Brandon Sutter all have been significant contributors. So were free-agent pickups Mark Eaton, Deryk Engelland, Ruslan Fedotenko, Eric Godard, Paul Martin, Mike Rupp, Darryl Sydor, Petr Sykora, Steve Sullivan, and Jarkko Ruutu.

          Shero’s draft record isn’t great, although I think it has to be viewed within its proper context. Ever since he took the reins the Pens have been a legit Cup contender. When you’re reaching for the brass ring, draft picks often are packaged in trades for needed help or rentals.

          All things considered, I think he’s done a good job of drafting defensemen. Olli Maatta had a terrific rookie season. Derrick Pouliot is touted as a future star. Robert Bortuzzo has the makings of a solid physical defenseman; Simon Despres still possesses plenty of potential. Scott Harrington and Philip Samuelsson are future NHLers. Shero draftees Jake Muzzin (Kings) and Brian Strait (Islanders) have established themselves with other teams.

          Conversely, Shero and his staff have dropped the ball (puck) when it comes to drafting forwards. Aside from Beau Bennett—who I’m not sold on—Tom Kuhnhackl was supposed to be a kid with a big shot who could score goals. He’s regressed almost from the moment we picked him.

          Switching gears, I don’t hold Shero solely accountable for the team’s lack of toughness. Following the wild Islanders brawl back in 2011, Mario basically came out and said the Pens were going to clean up their act. Exit Godard, Rupp, and Max Talbot that summer, and Arron Asham, Matt Cooke, and Tyler Kennedy down the road.

          Last spring, Shero acquired Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Douglas Murray. Tough players all. Okay, so Murray literally couldn’t move. But Morrow (6 goals in 15 games) and Iginla (5 goals in 13 games) were productive down the stretch before being marginalized in the playoffs.

          With Cooke, Iginla, Kennedy, Morrow, and Murray all departing over the summer, I’ll agree that Shero didn’t do enough to reinforce the team heading into this season. I also sense Dan Bylsma had more of a hand in personnel decisions. Enter Chris Conner, one of his old favorites. Given the coach’s preference for speed, it’s no surprise that water-bug types like Connor, Brian Gibbons and Andrew Ebbett began to dominate the third and fourth lines.


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