Bell Tolls All-too-Soon on Penguins Season
The date was June 12, 2009. A Friday night. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Having finished my shift at Wright’s Gym, I stayed and watched the final period of the Penguins’ dramatic Cup-winning victory over Detroit on the big-screen TV above the front desk with owner Dave Wright. We shared a pizza from Portofino’s…pepperoni I think. Funny how you remember such things.
I remember the promise that team held, too.
“This team is set up for a great future,” noted veteran leader and current assistant GM Bill Guerin. “These guys are all in their early twenties.”
Indeed, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang were 21. Evgeni Malkin was 22. Jordan Staal…20. Marc-Andre Fleury…the graybeard at 24.
Where has the time gone?
Fast-forward to last night. Once again, I watched the proceedings on the big-screen TV at Wright’s. If the game back in 2009 represented a coronation of sorts, last night’s Game 4 defeat represented…to me…the final curtain descending on hands-down the most wonderful decade of hockey in Pens history.
As Dorothy said to Toto after her house landed in Oz, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I have a sinking feeling we’re not gonna win any more Cups for a while.
I’m not being negative. Merely pragmatic. As respected PenguinPoop commenter 55 on Point recently noted, every championship team has a life cycle. They eventually run their course and bottom out. It’s as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
The Chicago Blackhawks won three Cups in six seasons. After bowing in the first round two seasons in a row, the Hawks have missed the playoffs two years running. And that’s with a core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith…the Windy City version of Crosby, Malkin and Letang.
Superstars alone do not a Cup-team make.
The Los Angeles Kings won Cups in 2012 and 2014. Anyone seen them lately?
You get my gist. The road ahead could be a rocky one for our Pens. I’m not looking forward to it.
Enough peering into what may be a bleak future. Back to last night. In many ways, the Pens’ 3-1 loss to the Islanders was a microcosm of our season. The good, the bad and the ugly all rolled into one.
First…the good. Starting with a bang, Letang pinched down the right sideboards to keep a play alive in the Islanders’ zone. Crosby found Jake Guentzel cruising all alone in the high slot with a beautiful backhand pass. “Jake the Snake” did the rest, rifling the puck past Robin Lehner to stake the Pens to an early 1-0 lead.
The Pens still possess plenty of firepower and quick-strike ability.
Next…the bad. Ninety-four seconds later, Letang turned the puck over inside the Islanders’ blue line, sending the visitors scurrying away on a 2-on-1 break. Sliding on his knees to cut the angle, Matt Murray failed to stop Jordan Eberle’s glove-side snipe.
The Pens take too many risks and yield too many odd-man breaks. They can’t play with a lead. The goalies need to make big saves when it matters.
Now…the ugly. With the first period winding down, rookie defenseman Markus Pettersson skated to the end boards to retrieve a dump-in with ex-Pen Tom Kuhnhackl in hot pursuit.
“It’s a simple play,” noted studio analyst Jay Caufield. “Just reverse the puck out.”
Except Pettersson didn’t get his stick on the puck, opting to play it with his skates instead. Josh Bailey pounced on the loose rubber, causing the Pens other d-man, Erik Gudbranson, to give chase. With both black-and-gold defenders trapped out of position, Bailey fed Brock Nelson in front for an easy goal.
The Pens are mistake-prone. There’s an appalling lack of structure, especially in the defensive zone.
And that, in a nutshell, sums up the current state of our team. Talented but error prone. Maybe emotionally fragile, too. The very definition of a mixed bag.
Yes, there’s still a lot to like. But we’ve sprouted some warts, too. Perhaps too many to be removed with simple cosmetic surgery.
It’s going to be a long…and potentially eventful…summer.
Author: Rick Buker