Sweet Georgia Brown: Penguins on Shaky Ground – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Sweet Georgia Brown: Penguins on Shaky Ground

During each of the past three seasons the Pittsburgh Penguins rocketed through March and April, only to pull an el foldo in the playoffs. This year Dan Bylsma’s crew seems to be trying a totally different approach—play as poorly as possible in the stretch run and hope to heat up in the postseason.

pp0441With a 5-4-2 record since the Olympic break, the Penguins clearly have accomplished the first part of their mission.

To be fair, injuries to key personnel have taken a heavy toll. You don’t lose players like Kris Letang and Paul Martin—not to mention Pascal Dupuis and Tomas Vokoun—for extended periods and not feel the effects. However, even with those guys in the lineup the Penguins are a deeply flawed team.

The disastrous 5-4 loss to Detroit on Thursday night was a microcosm of what ails the Pens. Handed a five-minute power play at the end of regulation, they repeatedly passed the puck through the slot to teammates positioned along the wall or outside the prime scoring areas, trying to set up pretty goals.

Pretty might fill the CONSOL Energy Center seats. It won’t win a Stanley Cup.

Chris Kunitz is the only black-and-gold forward who acts like he won’t get whistled for a lane violation if he pays more than a passing visit to the paint. When was the last time a Penguin took the puck and bulled his way down the slot? Not since announcer Mike Lange’s proverbial eighth-grade picnic. Or more to the point, since Jordan Staal got traded.

Nor do the Pens show any real interest in managing the puck or protecting Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s posted a sorry 3.35 GAA and .894 save percentage since the Olympic break. It’s fire wagon (or fire drill) hockey all of the time, no matter what the situation. How else do you explain giving up a goal with 0.4 seconds to play in overtime on a 3-on-1 break?


Mike Milbury was right when he referred to the Penguins as offensive “crack addicts.” So was Rob Scuderi. This team doesn’t know how to play anything but Harlem Globetrotter hockey. They should change their theme song to Sweet Georgia Brown.

There’s always a chance the Pens will fix their myriad of problems in time for a postseason run. But I doubt it.

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  1. kevin Johnson's Gravatar kevin Johnson
    March 25, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Lets not kid each other there is no Bylsma system to begin with. He has some very gifted offensive players that can score goals and win games during regular season and get away with not playing defense. You can’t play like this in the playoffs. A six year old hockey fan knows that. You can’t put the exact team with the exact failed so-called system on the ice year after year and expect a different result. I’m starting to think Mario and company just don’t care. They want to sell tickets during regular season and this style of hockey is what the doctor ordered.

  2. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    March 24, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    It has been Globtrotters hockey since the days of MArio and Jagr..trying to make it look good instead of shooting and trying to score.

    Your are right on Rick, I have said the same thing and some “hockey” people just don’t see it.
    It’s pretty bad when my 11 year old, who plays rep hockey here in Canada, is yelling at the TV for a shot from the point not a pass

  3. James's Gravatar James
    March 23, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I love my Pens win or lose! but I do hope they take their season magic all the way to the Cup finals! Go Pens! Love, your biggest Texas Pens fan!

  4. March 22, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Whoa! Coach here, no need to jump all over Rick for telling the facts.

    Connie, the Pens have not locked up a playoff spot. The Bruins are the only team in the league that have done so. So, let’s at least get things straight. And, yes, we lost a lot of man games. Just like we do every season. So have a lot of teams. But, why we’re we playing better when Niskanen was our most seasoned defensesman the other 5 had what, maybe 50 games (Maatta with the most) between them? We have more regular players back now up front as well, yet chemistry is a bigger problem? None of that makes sense.

    Nobody is asking for a perfect game, but some effort would be nice sometimes. And, I think you’re missing Rick’s point. This is a different season. However, we’re going into the final run on a downswing. That does not bode well for a team that has had trouble in the playoffs the past couple of seasons when going in on a tear. Besides, we all know that just getting into the playoffs is not all that matters.

    Braeden, there hasn’t been a lot of good coming out them to respect lately. Even when they win or come close, it’s not pretty. That may get you a loser point in the regular season, but there are none of those in the playoffs. It’s not pessimism, it’s the way things are.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 24, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Coach … 🙂

  5. Kelli's Gravatar Kelli
    March 22, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing the reality that fans don’t want to hear, though it’s coming from everywhere.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your comments, Kelli.

      Every team has strengths and weaknesses. But the same issues seem to play out over and over again for the Pens, without being properly addressed.

  6. 55 on point's Gravatar 55 on point
    March 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Kudos Rick! It’s the proverbial hitting the nail on the head. They’re frustrating to watch and I have a new bald spot or two from scratching my head in bewilderment. I don’t know how the careless play can be tolerated and go unaddressed. I’ve complained before about the highlight reel mentality that seems to overtake them more often than anyone would care to admit.

    You’re right, too, that Sid isn’t the same player he was before the conclusions. Anyone who doesn’t see that is caught up in the hype and not paying attention. It’s difficult to understand why he has been so consistently bad with the puck. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to hold on to it for any length of time. I don’t know why because he’s one of the best puck handlers the game has ever seen. And Malkin gives him a run fo his money in that department, too.

    This still seems to me to be a team without an identity mired in a “system” that is carved in stone and unadjustable. They play one game and everyone in the league knows it. They can’t surprise anyone even though they are more than capable of doing so whenever they’d care to. Perhaps coach Dan has run his course. I don’t know. I do know it pains me to see him consistently out coached and never seeming to lift a finger to change it up a bit beyond juggling lines.

    Yes, they need more size and toughness that’s actually tough instead of acting tough and taking foolish penalties. They need consistent secondary scoring. They need to learn how to be a puck possession team if that’s what they aspire to be. You can’t call yourself that if you’re just plain stupid with the puck. I’ve said it before, I’d start fining these guys for blind, stupid behind the back and drop passes that result in turnovers. If they aren’t the league leaders in that stat they’re in the top three. That ain’t what a puck possession team does.

    I honestly think they played better hockey with a bunch of call ups who, perhaps, didn’t know the “system” in and out, so they just laced ’em up and played hockey.

    I don’t know where they go from here. And while I don’t think the window to another cup is closed it’s definitely narrowing and several tons of hockey talent are being squandered because of a lack of adaptability. Then again maybe you’re onto something. Perhaps filling the Consol game after game is really all that matters. I don’t want to think that but if they keep going home in early spring what else might I think?

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 22, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      Always good to hear from you, 55 on Point.

      I share so many of your concerns and couldn’t have expressed them more eloquently. In particular, your thoughts about the team being mired in a “system” that can’t be adjusted or modified really struck a chord. Other teams know exactly what to expect when they play the Pens. And, as you so aptly noted, they know Bylsma isn’t going to make any meaningful in-game adjustments.

      A major problem with Bylsma’s puck-possession game—at least the way the Pens execute it—is that it breeds reckless play and defensive irresponsibility. All too often the players see “puck-possession” as a green light to force the attack at all costs, with little thought to the repercussions in their own end. We’ve seen how well that works come playoff time.

      Another unfortunate by-product of Bylsma’s system is that it drives personnel decisions. Slowly but surely the Pens are being tailored to suit his style, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. They’ve gotten smaller, less combative, and less able to win puck battles—a key element if you’re playing puck-possession hockey.

      I was happy when Shero acquired Morrow and Iginla last year because they didn’t fit Bylsma’s cookie-cutter mold. They brought qualities such as toughness, abrasiveness and leadership to the mix. Neither could skate 90 mph, so Bylsma eventually marginalized them. Frankly, I thought the way he handled Iginla—who’s doing quite well in Boston (26 goals)—was a disgrace.

      I think it’s time for a new voice and a new philosophy—one that strikes a better balance between offense and defense. As you alluded, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of talent, but the window to win another Cup won’t be open forever. It’d be a shame to squander future opportunities on a flawed system or coaching style.

  7. Connie's Gravatar Connie
    March 22, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Pens win a game and people bitch cause they didn’t score enough….Pens lose a game and people bitch cause they play sloppy. Never saw a team in the history of hockey play a perfect game yet…and never will!…..They have knotched a spot in the playoffs, that’s what counts. They did it primarily with the most injuries in the league. Players are getting healthy and have to form their “game legs and chemistry”. Everyone thinks cause they lost in the last few seasons in the playoffs that they will do the same this season….this is a new season! LGP!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 23, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Hey Connie,

      You brought up some very good points. Injuries certainly have taken a toll, and they have a trickle-down effect because they put more of a load on the players who are healthy. Having Letang and Martin out of the lineup is huge, because they’re so good at moving the puck out of our end, although I think Despres has done a really nice job in that area.

      And, yes, I do think they’re searching for the right combinations and the right chemistry, especially on the third and fourth lines. With a playoff spot virtually in the bag now certainly is the time to experiment.

      You’re also right in asserting that no team comes through an 82-game schedule without peaks and valleys. I’d rather have them struggle a bit now and get it out of their system instead of faltering in the playoffs.

      Having said that, these are my main concerns:

      1) The Pens have become too much of a perimeter team. Most of the forwards avoid the high-traffic areas—or aren’t effective when they go there. And that’s where you score in the playoffs, from in close and around the net.

      2) When under fire, the Pens start pressing the attack with a manic intensity and neglect their defensive chores. You don’t win in the postseason without playing sound defense.

      3) Marc-Andre Fleury. Following an excellent first half, he’s starting to slip. Granted, he’s been hung out to dry a lot lately. But I see the same tendencies—an inability to catch and freeze the puck and an inability to control rebounds, that have plagued him the past couple of postseasons.

      4) Dan Bylsma. He struggles to make meaningful adjustments, either on a broad scope or during the course of a game.

      5) A lack of size and muscle, which has made the Penguins vulnerable to big, physical teams like Boston, Philly, and St. Louis. Part of the reason stars like Malkin take so many retaliatory penalties is that there’s no one to effectively shield them from abuse.

  8. March 22, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Pessimistic bitch, have faith in the team and stop only highlihgting the flaws. classic old man hockey “fan” “lets not respect what they do, lets just call them out on every little mistake..”

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 23, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      You’re right, Braeden. I’m not a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil Penguins fan. I think the Pens have some major issues that need to be addressed if they’re to be a legitimate Cup contender.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t love the team. Nobody would be happier than I if they turn things around and win the Cup.

  9. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    March 22, 2014 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Couldn’t have said it better. Isn’t it interesting that everyone sees the problem except the management and coaching staff of this team. It’s like they live in this alternate universe.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 22, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      I don’t know about you, but I lost a lot of respect for Shero—and the organization in general—in the wake of last seasons loss to the Bruins in the Conference Finals. When I heard some of his comments, it was almost like he was reading from a prepared script. Heck, he practically apologized to Dan Bylsma for acquiring Iginla, Jokinen, Morrow, and Murray.

      Then, when he extended Bylsma, it’s as if he was saying “we’re okay with not winning Stanley Cups as long as we sell tickets and put on a good show.” I know you can’t win a Stanley Cup every year. This year’s team is a prime example. Even with everyone healthy, they just don’t have the right mix. But it should still be your goal.

      It’s really hard for me to believe Mario Lemieux is okay with all this. But ultimately, he’s the one in charge.

  10. Zack's Gravatar Zack
    March 21, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Pretty much a perfect write up Rick. If only we had a Kunitz for every line. It makes me wish Gary Roberts and Billy Guerin could come back and slap some sense into these guys. I love this team, but damn are they maddening to watch sometimes. Just hoping the normal 10-14 game winning streak they usually have in March is being saved for May and June.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      March 21, 2014 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Zack,

      I’ve been biting my tongue, trying to give the Pens the benefit of the doubt. After all, they have been pretty banged up. But after the deplorable loss to Detroit I had to vent.

      Like you, I love the Penguins dearly. But I’m deeply frustrated with them. I have been since last June, when Ray Shero starting blaming the team’s poor postseason play on parity. All the while we see the same shortcomings and bad habits play out over, and over, and over again with mind-numbing regularity.

      Amen to wishing we had a Gary Roberts or Bill Guerin to kick some butts on (and off) the ice. Nobody seems to hold this team accountable. Especially guys like Neal, Malkin and—I hate to say it—Crosby.

      I haven’t written about it, but I’ve been silently disappointed with Sid. I don’t think he ever was a vocal leader. But what made him so special—and what made him stand out from other superstars—was his work ethic. He worked so hard at all aspects of his game, it was impossible for the other guys not to give 110%, too.

      However, since he’s come back from the concussion/neck injury, I don’t think he’s been the same, attitude-wise. I first noticed a difference during the loss to the Flyers in the 2012 playoffs. While he engaged in a lot of chippy play and petulant behavior, Claude Giroux skated rings around him. This season he’s been lax defensively and more careless with the puck than I can ever remember. If your captain’s taking short cuts, well, it’s a lot easier for other guys to do the same.

      I feel like the Pens have morphed—almost overnight—into a reincarnation of the “country club” teams of the mid-1990s. Did those Penguins teams have star power? You bet. Did they score tons of goals and play entertaining hockey? Absolutely. Did they win any Cups? Nope. Not even close.

      I hate to say it, but I think the window for this team to win another Cup has already closed. With the right coach, they could’ve won Cups in each of the past two seasons. Now there are too many holes for Shero to fill without overpaying and/or giving up talent in return. Unless he figures out how to draft forwards, pronto, and adds some functional size, snarl and leadership, I think the slow, inexorable slide from contender to pretender will continue.


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