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The Confluence

Road Trip Report, the Bruins, and oh those Penguins

Aaah, home sweet home.  Nothing like driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-95 during the holidays, I always say.

Except for the bummer of the outcome, always great re-visiting the Igloo, this time for last night’s Bruins/Penguins tilt.  Gonna be sad when they tear down the ‘ol barn.

Did the “Pittsburgh thing” earlier in the afternoon.  Hit the Strip in an attempt to grab a sandwich at Primanti’s, but they were packed, so unfortunately we had to move on.  Visited a few of the shops, including the one with Korean owner who did a major no-no, that being playing the “Steelers are going to the Super Bowl” song.  If the Steelers lose before then, you know who to blame.  We ended up going over to Station Square and grabbed some chow at the Hard Rock.

Headed over to the Igloo, where as soon as we grabbed or seats in E3 (more on that in a sec), we finally met the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Empty Netters’ own Seth Rorabaugh.  Seth and I collectively shook our heads as we discussed the assigning of Alex Goligoski on the wing.  I mentioned to Seth that my last time at the Igloo was the game in which Gary Roberts broke his leg (and the game before that was the game when Nils Ekman hurt his elbow).  We just hoped the trend wouldn’t continue during the Bruins game.

For all the times I’ve been in the Igloo, this was the first time that I’ve had seats in either the E or F section, and frankly, I was pleasantly surprised.  We were right on top of the players, and you get a great angle of the plays.  What was really a contrast was that on Sunday night, we went to the much newer Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland to watch Lebron vs. Wade.  We were in the upper level there also, and we were what seemed like miles away from the action.  It made me fearful that when the Pens’ new arena opens up in a couple of years that the upper levels will be built in a similar way.

So, onto the hockey.  Let me give you two major themes:

1.  The Boston Bruins are no fluke.
2.  The Pittsburgh Penguins have major problems.

I was quite impressed with the Bruins.  In listening to the FSN replay, Steigy was comparing them to the Red Wings.  I won’t go that far, but I’d rather compare them to the Senators of a couple years ago.  Specifically, they really play a great transition game.  Their defensemen grab loose pucks and fire the puck to their forwards before the Penguins forecheckers can get to them.  Offensively, they play a simple game, get the pucks on net, flood the crease and bang the puck home.  If their opponents wants to play the physical game, they’ve got horses like Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton.  If you want to play a wide open game, they’ve got snipers like Marc Savard and Phil Kessel.  The Penguins will once again have their hands full on New Year’s Day to keep up with them.

As for the Penguins, sheesh, where do I start.  Or rather, what else needs to be said that hasn’t already been said ??

After yet another poor effort last night in their 5-2 loss to the Bruins, as you probably know by now the Penguins held a players only, closed-door meeting.  Head Coach Michel Therrien (HCMT) had some pretty pointed remarks concerning the meeting, saying that it was “about time” and some of his players were more focused on “personal agendas”.

A not-so-subtle reference to Senors Crosby and Malkin, no doubt.

I’m not so sure about that comment, quite frankly.  My view is that HCMT is running out of things to say.  My view is that HCMT has lost this team.  My view is that if HCMT isn’t on the hot seat, he damn well should be.

The primary thing that Penguins fans better acknowledge is that this team simply is not as good as last year’s team was.  I didn’t want to concur with that until recently myself.  Yes, I’m aware of the similar records.  But you can’t ingore the fact that this team is much more disjointed than last year’s team.

But “not as good” can mean so many different things to a hockey team.  That is definitely the case for these Penguins.  You can go in several directions when describing why they’re playing so poorly.  Lack of scoring wingers, mediocre goaltending, poor coaching, you name it.

But of course, you can’t talk about this year’s Penguins without talking about injuries.  People said when Marc-Andre Fleury came back, the Pens would bounce back.  Well, Fleury, after now playing in 21 games, is ranked near the bottom of the NHL in both save pct., and GAA.  People said that when Ryan Whitney came back, the Pens would bounce back.  Well, after four games since his return, Whitney has one assist.

And then there’s Sergei Gonchar.  Another thing that Pens fans should prepare themselves for is that the seas won’t part and goals start flying into the goals simply because Sergei Gonchar has returned.  His return will provide some stability to the power play at the point, but I would argue that with Mike Yeo’s system, where no one moves without the puck and they painfully overpass and pass up shots, it may not make that much of a difference.

The problems that the Penguins have are much more than simply injury-related.  This team has no fluidity, it has no chemistry and appears to be very difficult to make them play a complete game.  In addition, it’s amazing watching them play on how they’re so reluctant to simply throw the puck on net, which is exactly how they got their first goal last night.  It didn’t require a cute no-look pass nor 37 passes before they put a shot on goal, it was a simple wrister that Tim Thomas stopped, but Petr Sykora grabbed the rebound and got the “dirty” goal.  Well, it’s the lack of those dirty goals, and the continued emphasis on forcing the pretty plays that are sending the Penguins down the Eastern Conference standings.

Significant injuries to Tyler Kennedy, Mike Zigomanis and lately Kris Letang that can’t be overlooked as well.  However, as I mentioned above, the overall problems the Penguins face have more to do with the team as a whole, rather than individual injuries.

The real questions now become whether HCMT’s job is indeed safe, as well as how much longer will GM Ray Shero wait before making a move.  Regardless of comments made by Shero recently that he’s comfortable with Therrien, those feelings may change if things don’t start improving quickly.  In terms of the roster, even after Kennedy, Zigomanis, Letang and Gonchar return, none of those will be putting the puck in the net with any regularity.  The Penguins are now tied for last in the NHL in shots per game at 27.2.  Much of that is due to the aforementioned unwillingness to throw pucks on net, but it also doesn’t help to have wingers on the top two lines who don’t compliment their respective world-class centers.

Also throw in the fact that there are absolutely no more gimme’s on the schedule.  Even teams who were supposed to be struggling like Toronto and Tampa Bay are beating the Pens anyway.

Chuck Noll once said (paraphrasing) “We have problems and they are many”.  Ain’t that the truth, Chuck, ain’t that the truth.

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  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins

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About The Confluence

Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.

I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes.  I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.

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