5 Knee-Jerk Reactions to the Pittsburgh Penguins' Playoff Collapse

Steve Rodenbaugh@rodeyslContributor IIIMay 16, 2014

5 Knee-Jerk Reactions to the Pittsburgh Penguins' Playoff Collapse

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    After watching their team blow a 3-1 series lead to end yet another disappointing postseason, Pittsburgh
    Penguins fans are an angry group of people, and they are utilizing everything short of full-page advertisements to show it.

    With demands ranging from "fire Dan Bylsma" to "trade Evgeni Malkin," there seems to be a wide variety of proposed solutions, but there is one point on which all Pens fans seem to agree; something has to change.

    Since, as Albert Einstein once said, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result," to simply come back next season with the same management, coaching staff, roster and philosophy expecting anything different than yet another early postseason exit would be insane.

    As the team's ownership continues to deliberate the future of the franchise, let me add my voice to the chorus of critiques and offer five knee-jerk reactions to the Pens' playoff collapse.

There's a Disconnect Within the Organization

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    For a franchise that stresses continuity from the top down, there seems to be a growing disparity between management and the coaching staff and between the coaching staff and the players.

    When Ray Shero spent first-round and second-round picks and a handful of prospects to bring in Jarome Iginla last season, observers saw the moves as brilliant and an upgrade to the Pens roster.

    Dan Bylsma, however, acted like it was an imposition on him and his system. He refused to shuffle his lines to accommodate Iginla and instead put him at left wing on the second line instead of at right wing on the first line, where he belonged.

    It's hard to imagine that Shero would have given up the assets he did to have Iginla play out of position, and for him be relegated to a second and even third line leads me to believe that the coach and general manager weren't on the same page.

    With regards to Bylsma's relationship with his players, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has reported that Bylsma had "lost the locker room" and that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin felt they were being singled out for the team’s struggles.

    If Bylsma has indeed lost the support of his key players, Pens' ownership may have no choice but to make a change, just as they did when they fired Michel Therrien in 2009.

The Penguins Are More Silk Than Sandpaper

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    While much has been made of the Pens' lack of goal scoring from their top players this postseason, one area that has been ignored is the disturbing lack of grit that this team has shown of late.

    In previous years, the Pens always had "energy" players such as Jarko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, Mike Rupp and Tyler Kennedy—players who could gain momentum with a big hit, aggressive forechecking or by drawing a penalty.

    Unfortunately, this Pens team doesn't have nearly enough of those types as, instead of having both skill and grit, they have become basically a four-line skill team.

    While some might blame Pens general manager Ray Shero for not adding enough grit to his roster, he spent a lot of assets last season to add Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow but head coach Dan Bylsma relegated them to the third and fourth lines by the end of the postseason.

    If there's one lesson that the Pens' last three playoff series should have taught them, it is that grit and tenacity can negate skill and unless the Pens find a way to add and utilize the kind of grit that their opponents have shown, they will never seriously contend for the Stanley Cup again.

Marc-Andre Fleury Is Not the Problem

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    Through two postseason rounds, Marc-Andre Fleury has given up fewer goals per game (2.40) and has a better save percentage (.915) than L.A. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (2.78/.914). 

    For Penguins fans who argue that Fleury is the beginning and end of the team's problems, repeat the above fact to yourself and see if you change your mind. 

    While it has become almost a reflex response to blame Fleury for the Pens' playoff disappointments, the bottom line is that he was not the problem this postseason.

    The fact is that Fleury, aside from the epic puck-handling disaster in Game 4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, was just as good in the postseason as he was in the regular season (2.37 goals-against average and identical .915 save percentage).

    When compared to his Stanley Cup-winning performance in the 2009 playoffs (2.61 goals-against average and .908 save percentage), Fleury was even better this postseason, so it's hard to argue that he should be the scapegoat yet again.

Sidney Crosby Needs a Bodyguard

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    In 2007, he had Gary Roberts.  In 2008, he had Ryan Malone.  In 2009 and 2010, he had Bill Guerin.

    Since then, however, Sidney Crosby has had nobody to be a physical presence and watchdog against teams that try to wear him down with physical play—both before and after the whistle.

    While much has been made of Crosby's retaliations against his antagonists in the postseason, not enough has been made about how the greatest player in the world has had to fight his own battles.

    When Mario Lemieux was in his prime, the Pens surrounded him with rugged players like Rick Tocchet and Kevin Stevens to give him time, space and protection—none of which Crosby has had in recent years.

    As a player who has already had more than his fair share of injuries and already lost two full seasons worth of games over his career, Crosby should be better protected and, given his body language at the end of the Pens' playoff run, he seems to know it.

There Are No More Excuses

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    Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins have had a lot of postseason disappointments and
    have always seemed to have an excuse for each one of them.

    In 2010, their second-round loss was blamed on Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak who had a .927 save percentage in the seven-game series.

    In 2011, their first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was blamed on injuries as both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were sidelined and the team blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven games.

    In 2012, their first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers was blamed on Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed 26 goals and looked lost at times in the six-game series.

    In 2013, their third-round loss to the Boston Bruins was blamed on the Bruins' size and physicality as
    the Pens scored just four goals in the four-game sweep.

    This time, after struggling against the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets and blowing a 3-1 lead to the New York Rangers, there are no excuses.

    Regular-season hockey and playoff hockey are not the same thing, and the Pens are built for the first and not the second.

    Given what Pens fans have seen over the last few seasons, only wholesale changes will correct that.