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The Morning After:  What Could Have Been

I guess I take consolation in the fact that all but one team’s bloggers have to write “The Morning After” article.  That’s something.

Doesn’t really matter in which playoff round your respective team gets eliminated.  Unless your team is the one that’s hoisting the Stanley Cup in June, you will eventually write this article, and yeah, it sucks.

But now that the emotions have mostly died down after a night of tossing and turning, I’ll attempt to look at the Penguins’ playoff loss to Tampa Bay, as well as their wacky season, in perspective.

As I wrote on Twitter after the game, if that game last night wasn’t a microcosm of the second half of the Penguins’ season, I don’t know what is.

Zero finishers, barely any secondary scoring and a completely broken power play.  That said, stick-tap to Dwayne Roloson.  Although I have to say that I really don’t feel that the Penguins really

challenged

him very much throughout the series, meaning the vast majority of shots were from the perimeter directly into his chest, he did what he had to do.

But let’s reflect:

- Going into the Jan. 1st Winter Classic, the Penguins were 25-11-3, at or near the top of the NHL.  Sidney Crosby was having a career year, with 31 goals and 65 points in only 40 games.  Evgeni Malkin wasn’t having his typical year, but he still had 15 goals in 43 games.  Marc-Andre Fleury had rebounded from a 1-6 start to lead the Penguins to a 12-game winning streak from Nov. 17th to Dec. 11th.  Things were going fantastic for the Penguins.

Then, things slowly but surely started to unravel on Jan. 1st when Crosby was “accidently” blind-sided by David Steckel, then hit from behind by Victor Hedman four days later.  That would be the last time we would see Crosby on the ice.  Malkin went down on Feb. 4th, the victim of a fluke collison between he and the Sabres’ Tyler Myers, with a torn ACL & MCL (although I believe in surgery the injury was deemed not as severe).

- Since Crosby went down, coupled with Malkin’s season-ending injury, to the Penguins’ credit, they went 24-14-5.  That level of what can only be described as over achievement cannot be minimized.  Perhaps it was best exemplified by Faceoff Factor’s Jesse Marshall, who Tweeted “Take the Sedin’s off of Vancouver, the Joe’s off of SJ, Toews and Kane off of Chi. Do they make it this far? Testament to this team.”  I would also add, to a lesser extent, Zetterberg and Datsyuk off the Red Wings.  They still have lots of horses to somewhat overcome it if need be.

The Pens’ gameplan of a stifling forecheck and a suffocating defense was shifted into high gear after 87 and 71 went down.  They were winning ugly, but they were winning.  Players like Tyler Kennedy, who was criticized around the Penguins’ blogosphere (including this one), ended up having a career year with 21 goals.  Chris Kunitz finished strong with 23 goals.  Fleury continued his stellar play, to the point where many in the NHL media were proclaiming that Fleury should be at least in the discussion for MVP.

- But in the end, it was the lack of any semblance of secondary scoring and the absence of any finishers that resulted in their downfall.  As I wrote previewing Game 7, without Crosby and Malkin, this is how the Penguins’ roster was constructed.  It was almost completely relying on 87/71.  It was 87/71, and everyone else.  Now, of course, no one could have foreseen that both Crosby and Malkin would be lost for the year.  But the fact remains that the offensive talent that remained after the Crosby and Malkin injuries was insufficient to make a sustained playoff run.

- The powerplay is an absolute disgrace.  And let me be more specific, I’m not just referring to the horrible performance during the Tampa series,

I’m talking about parts of the last three seasons!

Before this season, the easy scapegoat was Assistant Coach Mike Yeo.  But Yeo left Pittsburgh to take a head coaching position in the AHL.  I freely admit now, I bashed Yeo, and now that I’ve seen the Penguins’ woeful powerplay without him for a season, I fall on my sword and admit I was completely wrong.  There is absolutely no doubt now that

this is a systemic problem, and it needs completely revamped

.  The Penguins have two of the top 10 players in the world on their first powerplay unit, and they can’t finish higher than 19th in the league on the powerplay?  That is systemic, folks.  The Penguins’ management needs to come to the realization that they need to hire an advisor/coach whose responsibility is the powerplay.  It simply has gotten out of control, and they are throwing too many games away because of it.

- Lastly, I’m not touching free agency for at least a month.  Let the playoffs work themselves out, as well as the emotions of the Penguins’ exit subside.  It will be a very interesting conversation, though, that’s for sure.

That’s about it.  Of course, now that the Pens season is over, the frequency of my posts will go down, but before you know it, the draft will be close, as well as free agency.  October can’t come soon enough for a healthy Penguins’ squad, especially for their fans.

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  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins

Comments

Russian Rocket's avatar

First off, thanks for the work this year Tony.  Appreciate it.  I agree 100% that the powerplay needs to be the priority this offseason.  Go out and get an assistant who can fix it, they may have to move away from the umbrella formation, whatever it takes to get this thing going. Other than that though, proud of what they accomplished without 87/71 and am looking forward to the draft and FA.

Posted by Russian Rocket on 04/28/11 at 12:14 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Pretty much what I dreaded would happen ! They HAVE to fix the PP Hire Someone who has a Clue how to best utilize the Talent they Have ! In other words Quit pounding Round Pegs into Square Holes . In other words No Putting Geno on the LP where he can’t utilize his wicked one timers, That is what scares the sh*& out of me about Bylsma is that he has all off season to prepare a PP without Gonchar & that is what he came up with ? REALLY ??

Decisions have to be made on the make up next seasons team but that is for another day

Bottom is Pens Fans saw that the 3rd/4th Line Grinders were play at 100% all season & when the Playoffs started they had no other gears to go to & TB did

Overplayed the Top 4 D Men & made them tired & mistake prone

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 12:22 PM ET

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Unless your team is the one that’s hoisting the Stanley Cup in June, you will eventually write this article, and yeah, it sucks.

Honestly, this general idea is what is allowing me to deal with last nights loss.

Lets hope Saad is available for the pens.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/28/11 at 12:23 PM ET

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They should have hired a PP coach before the playoffs started, not after the season is over! angry

Posted by JJ on 04/28/11 at 12:31 PM ET

WingsFaninCO's avatar

Tough loss last night.  I will admit I was cheering for TB, but injuries can ruin any team’s post-season chances.  See you next year.

Posted by WingsFaninCO on 04/28/11 at 12:42 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

They should have hired a PP coach before the playoffs started, not after the season is over! well as I have said all the time they Interviewed Barry Smith & Bylsma Hired Todd Reirden instead & Bylsma took over the PP ! Brilliance   sick

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 12:48 PM ET

Leo_Racicot's avatar

Good work as usual, Tony.

I wrote this earlier on another post and will say it again as I’m curious to hear what you guys think. 

I came into this series completely convinced that the Pittsburgh defense and puck posession game was going to overwhelm Tampa Bay.  For the first four games, I felt like that was transpiring.  Then, the last half of the first period happened on Saturday in game five and the wheels came flying off.

What sticks with me most is how guys like Orpik and Letang were playing last night.  I saw a few critical chinks in their mental armor with regards to the way they were carrying themselves during the game.  Specifically, Orpik during the GWG where he essentially quit playing to look at the referee while pleading for a call.  He’s typically sharp in that regard, but he certainly looked out of character on that play.

Letang will hopefully grow up a bit as a result of this series. His exaggerations and stick drops in the midst of play were both annoying and non-championship like.  Those were the kind of things that I expected to see Tampa Bay doing when they were facing adversity, and frankly, I walked away from last nights game dissapointed that I was seeing those little wrinkles from a championship team. 

Perhaps I’m overplaying it a bit, but it sure didn’t sit well with me last night as a neutral spectator.

Posted by Leo_Racicot on 04/28/11 at 12:49 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 11:48 AM ET

The Pens should hire you, I guess…right?  For everything, really.  PP coach, head of player scouting and development.  I mean, you DO know it all.  rolleyes

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 04/28/11 at 12:56 PM ET

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The most frustrating part of the goal last night was it was identical to the goal they scored with the same players the game before.  Adams and Asham both mentally checked out on that play.

As for Letang, i think his offensive upside is secondary to his ability to hit.  His hitting is excellent and is the main reason I wanted to keep him over Gogo.  The injuries were just too much to overcome, and Kovy was definitely not the answer that Shero was hoping for.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/28/11 at 01:01 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Congrats on the season, Tony.  I know it ended early.  But losing your top 2 players for the season, and still making the playoffs is in fact an accomplishment.  But it highlight the eggs/basket problem of paying 2 guys sooooo much money and then praying they don’t get hurt.  I don’t what you do now to correct that…  a bunch of 20 and 10-goal guys just can’t make up for losing a 30 and 40.

Wings fans get the special teams thing.  We watched Todd leave for SJ, and watched our PP and PK never be the same since.  The Pens’ PP needs probably a legit artist in the vein of Smyth and Holmstrom, and that’d help a lot.

Things just can’t all fall into place every year though.  And eventually, the injury bug does catch up to you.  Always.  So you have to make the best of it… and with that in mind the Pens had a fine enough year.

Posted by Primis on 04/28/11 at 01:02 PM ET

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But it highlight the eggs/basket problem of paying 2 guys sooooo much money and then praying they don’t get hurt.

This method won the pens a cup.  There is no doubt the penguins are built differently than a team like the flyers, but the flyers have not won a cup yet.  The penguins are dangerous with all their centers healthy… one fluke injury riddled season should not change Shero’s mentality towards 3 big horses down the middle.

The problem for me is the money tied up in defense and MAF.  As much as i love MAF, the fact is teams are winning each year with the Rolly’s, Leightons, Osgoods, etc.  All goalies making significantly less than 5 million a year.  For me, Orpik is the only one on the blue line who earned his pay this series.  Martin is beginning to look like a monumental mistake.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/28/11 at 01:13 PM ET

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Doesn’t really matter in which playoff round your respective team gets eliminated

Yeah, it really does.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 04/28/11 at 01:24 PM ET

Tony's avatar

How so?  Your team didn’t win the Cup, did you?  Does it make you feel that much better if you make it to, say, the Finals?

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 04/28/11 at 01:26 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

Flyers won two cups (under Fred Shero) in 74 and 75, but nothing recently (obviously). The Pens are built very well right down the center and have a decent defensive core, but I have to agree with G2L that they’ve overpaid some performers. The Pens remind me of some of the mythical teams that transcend their sport on the backs of superstars. They’re the Bulls with Jordan and Rodman or the 49ers with Montana and Rice. When you have so much riding on so few, losing them is incredibly destabilizing. Given all that, they made a pretty deep run for a pretty unbalanced roster. I was impressed they not only made the postseason, but made it comfortably without key pieces.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 04/28/11 at 01:34 PM ET

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Flyers won two cups (under Fred Shero) in 74 and 75, but nothing recently (obviously).

Yea, i meant in regards to the way they have built their team in the past 5 years…. not the broad street bully way of the 70’s.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/28/11 at 01:46 PM ET

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What sticks with me most is how guys like Orpik and Letang were playing last night.  I saw a few critical chinks in their mental armor

Those started showing up around the time of the Goligoski trade as well, which is right around the time Bylsma started playing his top two pairs too much. That’s kind of an easy thing to fix, though, as Niskanen (who seems to be the guy Bylsma doesn’t trust—for good reason) could conceivably lose his job to as many of 5 players currently in development right now.


While it’s irritating to lose a playoff series after spending 75% of it with puck possession, this loss doesn’t hurt all that much, considering the nature of the guys who were out. As soon as Malkin went down, my initial reaction is that they wouldn’t even make the playoffs. That they finished just back of the division lead is a win in itself.

And yeah, the powerplay sucks and its time to look for outside answers.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/28/11 at 01:49 PM ET

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I should also point out that the only thing the Penguins would have had to look forward to in the next round was Washington, who would have swept them without Crosby and Malkin.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/28/11 at 01:51 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

This method won the pens a cup.  There is no doubt the penguins are built differently than a team like the flyers, but the flyers have not won a cup yet.  The penguins are dangerous with all their centers healthy… one fluke injury riddled season should not change Shero’s mentality towards 3 big horses down the middle.

The problem for me is the money tied up in defense and MAF.  As much as i love MAF, the fact is teams are winning each year with the Rolly’s, Leightons, Osgoods, etc.  All goalies making significantly less than 5 million a year.  For me, Orpik is the only one on the blue line who earned his pay this series.  Martin is beginning to look like a monumental mistake.

IF Geno is playing like Geno is capable of there is no problem, ThepProblem arises if he continues to play like he has the last 2 seasons. Martin is Fine if you thought he was a replacement for Gonchar you are sorely mistaken, Bylsma overplayed the top 4 D Men because he had very little confidence in Niskanen & Lovejoy & TB knew that & hit The top 4 D men every opportunity they had & it wore them down & led to Brutal Mistakes

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 01:54 PM ET

Tony's avatar

Your lack of a Staal mention is so refreshing EP… wink

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 04/28/11 at 01:56 PM ET

Leo_Racicot's avatar

Martin is beginning to look like a monumental mistake.
Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/28/11 at 12:13 PM ET

I know I’ve brought this up before so bear with me.  I still can’t get over the universal praise for this move last summer.  Virtually every hockey rag crowned Shero as the King of the FA market and they indicated that Martin was the signature move of the summer.

For the life of me, I will never understand why they thought he would replace Gonchar and I say that because when you see that he got Michalek for 1m cheaper (arguably a better stay-at-home player then Martin), it pegged Martin into that spot.  Martin had never seen anything past the first round in the playoffs with NJD, and their powerplay was largely based upon their talented forward group in the years he was there.

Shero deserves to be criticized for that.  I’m not sure how that defense is going to evolve given these redundancies and the inflated contract that Martin has.

Posted by Leo_Racicot on 04/28/11 at 02:02 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Tony I think My opinion has been pretty well Known & this season it is proven what he is. What I say or You or anyone else say about him doesn’t change what the Pens will do with him

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 02:14 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

For the life of me, I will never understand why they thought he would replace Gonchar and I say that because when you see that he got Michalek for 1m cheaper (arguably a better stay-at-home player then Martin), it pegged Martin into that spot


I don’t think the Pens Pegged Martin to replace Gonchar, If anybody was Pegged for that job it was Gogo & unfortunately they had to trade Gogo to get a Legit Top 2 Line winger in Neal

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 02:19 PM ET

Avatar

No doubt, the Penguins had a very difficult season.  This season shows the ability of Dan Bylsma as a coach.  He is the second best coach in Grand Haven, MI (Tom Izzo, the Michigan State basketball coach, live there in the summer).  I was very impressed with Bylsma walking to the Tampa bench to shake Guy Boucher’s hand after Tampa ended the series.  This was class to the Nth degree.

Doc

Posted by DocF from Reidsville, NC on 04/28/11 at 02:32 PM ET

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For the life of me, I will never understand why they thought he would replace Gonchar and I say that because when you see that he got Michalek for 1m cheaper (arguably a better stay-at-home player then Martin)

Stay at home isn’t really what Martin does. Martin’s game is from his own circles to the offensive blue-line—setting picks, stealing pucks, getting body position, interfering with people, delaying the opposition until his own guys get back into position and just generally covering a lot of ground—in other words, when Martin’s on his game, his stay-at-home play doesn’t happen because chances never materialize due to something subtle he did when the other team was on their odd-man rush.

Basically, Martin’s job is to make the life of the other four guys on the ice a whole lot easier. While he made some mistakes, it’s difficult to argue that Pittsburgh didn’t have the puck all series, which Martin was a big part of.

That said, he’s a totally different player than Gonchar. There are maybe three defensemen in the league who are as effective from the right point as Gonchar and they all make more than Martin.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/28/11 at 03:01 PM ET

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I don’t think the Pens Pegged Martin to replace Gonchar, If anybody was Pegged for that job it was Gogo & unfortunately they had to trade Gogo to get a Legit Top 2 Line winger in Neal

Posted by Evilpens on 04/28/11 at 01:19 PM ET

Agreed. Think they thought Letang handle Gonchar’s trigger-man role and Gogo could handle his quarterback role. Martin was meant to be more of a Hal Gill interference monster who can actually move, instead of just stand in one place. I think he did fine at that. Maybe not 5.5 million worth of fine, but he was a big part of Pittsburgh’s success.

To understand what Martin does well, you need to watch him on the other team’s breakouts or dumps.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/28/11 at 03:07 PM ET

Tony's avatar

I think the PP QB role is a tad bit overrated….

Their woes are more due to the extreme stationary system they employ…..

Look at Tampa’s, or Detroit’s, or Philly’s…..

They are ALWAYS moving, WITH and WITHOUT the puck….

That’s how you created shooting and passing lanes….

Playing catch and not moving makes it TOO easy to block shooting/passing lanes…..

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 04/28/11 at 03:10 PM ET

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How so?  Your team didn’t win the Cup, did you?  Does it make you feel that much better if you make it to, say, the Finals?

Yes.

If you miss the playoffs do you feel better if your team missed the playoffs by 1 point, or finished with the fewest points in the Conference?  Hey, you missed the playoffs either way, right? 

Or, if you lose in the first round would you feel better if you got swept and blown out in each game… or if you went to a game 7 and lost by one goal?  Hey, you lost in the first round either way, right?

Granted, the sense of disappointment in the immediate term will likely be greater to lose late in the playoffs rather than earlier, but after the red-hot glow of angst fades it is much more likely a fan will feel better about their teams’ season the farther said team progressed in the playoffs.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 04/28/11 at 03:23 PM ET

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Posted by HockeyinHD on 04/28/11 at 02:23 PM ET

You still lose.  In 2008, it wasn’t, yay, the Pens are 2nd best after the season.  It still isn’t.  It will always completely suck that they didn’t win the Cup that year.  Just like last year.  It wasn’t that they lost to Montreal, it was the fact they lost regardless of round.  Will it make you feel better about the Wings season if they get beat by the Sharks, in the WCF, or in the Cup Finals?  Probably not.

All in all, even though this team overachieved, this was a wasted year.  It’s a wasted year off everyones contracts.  It’s another year of age to guys and another year they can’t get back.  So many what ifs for this season and that’s what sucks.

I agree about the PP coach and changing the organizations philosophy on it.  It never ceases to amaze me that when they were healthy, the Pens run their PP through the point and not one of their two all world centers.  This needs to change and if it doesn’t, it will be a major disappointment next year.

Tony, thanks for your posts.  It’s always nice to see a post of yours on here and a good change of pace.

Posted by pens fan in baltimore on 04/28/11 at 07:16 PM ET

Primis's avatar

I guess you guys could finish in the lottery for 5 years in a row again instead.

Posted by Primis on 04/29/11 at 08:51 AM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Yeah Primis & then Wieners like you would Bitch about that too

Posted by Evilpens on 04/29/11 at 01:17 PM ET

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Looks like the Wings will be sweeped by the Sharks. With such an old team, I see this is their last year of dominance. Also, it appears the Bolts may also sweep the Caps. If the Bruins can dump the Flyers (with their three stooges in goal), my three most hated teams will all be out soon.

Posted by Billy Boy on 05/02/11 at 01:04 PM ET

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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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