Let's start with some serious questions.
Can consecutive games of eight goals against send as many as three defenseman out of town in one offseason?
Will the Pittsburgh Penguins follow their own dictum and speak ill of the actions of Arron Asham and James Neal?
Should a coach with 100 points in consecutive regular seasons and one Jack Adams Award fear for his job after losing total control of his team both defensively and mentally?
The Penguins' third consecutive loss to the Philadelphia Flyers pretty much assures that the consensus Stanley Cup favorites will be bounced in the first round, and nothing points to them taking a single decision in what is fast becoming the most unobstructed fall from grace in Penguins playoff history.
This is a Penguins club featuring an Art Ross winner, the most goals scored in the regular season and hockey's only roster with two 40-plus goal scorers.
The season-long commitment to offense is tops in the long list of items that are about to sweep the Pens out of the playoffs.
Responding is one thing...
I said before the game that the Penguins needed to be more physical in front of both nets and even stir up a few fights in order to change the tenor of a series in which they've done little right.
Shame on me for assuming they could even fight correctly.
The Penguins racked up 89 of the game's 148 penalty minutes (really, it felt like more), including three game misconducts handed to Neal, Asham and Kris Letang.
As far as physicality goes, only Sidney Crosby handled it properly. Crosby started the physical play with a few face washes and other chippy displays of antagonism. Predictably, they led to tie-ups and some fights, but nothing out of the realm of playoff hockey.
Neal and Asham balanced the equation, however, each earning game misconducts for their questionable play.
It's no stretch that Asham's final act as a Penguin could be punching Brayden Schenn after cross-checking him in the neck. Schenn has gotten too big for his britches a number of times in this series and did so again in leaving his feet to put a high hit on Paul Martin, but Asham's response bordered on the Gilliesian.
Neal, too, should see some time off for his tie-up with Claude Giroux, if not for his borderline hit on Sean Couturier.
Penguins' brass was critical of the league following last year's incidents with the Islanders and Matt Cooke, and backed up their words by limiting the fighting and putting an ultimatum on Cooke's career.
A similar response has to be issued after this game, even if only in-house.
What the Penguins have displayed is easily the most lackluster defensive hockey of the season, by any team, against any opponent, in any stretch of games imaginable.
Chasing forecheckers. Failing to clear the puck. Taking hits and getting out of position. Lazy passing. Failing to support. An inept breakout.
You name it, the Pens have displayed it. This deserves closer analysis, and the blame lies with every single player on the roster.
Simply put, it has been the franchise's worst display of defense since the teams of the mid-2000s.
Blame Lands Hardest On?
Let's start with the referees. They failed to control the game early on, skewed the flow of play with a series of panic-calls in the second and then let things get grossly out of hand in the third. If any player suspensions or fines follow this game (and they certainly ought to), the referees should be punished in proportion.
In what the league had to have known would be a violent game, its officials handled the fracas like hall monitors.
Bylsma, too, deserves a plateful of blame for the mental lapses in this game and in the series. That he put Neal on the ice immediately after Neal had put a questionable hit on Couturier almost seemed to be stoking the fire even further. A horrible lapse of judgment.
The mountain of star power in the locker room finally appears to be limiting his willingness to hold players accountable. It's the only explanation for a defense that finished with a top-10 goals against number last season and, with the same personnel, has allowed 20 goals against in just three games.
Of course, there's not a single player on the roster who hasn't contributed to the poor play. Forwards are failing in their defensive responsibilities, while all six defensemen have failed in almost every responsibility.
This series has become a seismic correction of the flaws that were hidden by the late-season goal-scoring splurge.
No one seems willing, or able, to address those concerns.
James is at Slew Footers and @Slew_James. Whatever.
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