There are a lot of great Penguin blogs on the Internet. Over the summer we're asking some of those blogs to guest post over here. It's a great way to discover a new blog you may not be reading and it's easier than having to come up with our own material...
Today, Tony from The Confluence.
First of all, let me thank the boys at Pensblog for the invitation to bloviate on your fine blog. I met Derek, Adam, Rick and Stephen during the blogger’s tour at the new arena in early April. All are great people, just too bad our schedules didn’t allow for us to spend more time together, consume an adult beverage or two and shoot the Penguins shit.
What I’ve always liked and respected about Pensblog is that there is no gray area and no ambiguity when it comes to this blog. They regularly make it very clear you shouldn’t come here to get some long-winded commentary (**cough**) or to get blinded by statistics. But that shouldn’t confuse you about what Pensblog is, a group of knowledgeable hockey fans of the Penguins persuasion that talks about hockey THEIR way. Now that way may be via some wacky Photoshops, or a scathing batch of opinions on the topic of the day, a lot of which may be quite NSFW, but that’s what they do best. No more, no less.
Anyway, now that the Penguins have been on the golf course for about a month now and the emotions are gone for the most part, we can take a look back at the Penguins’ failure to repeat in retrospect. For those of you who’ve read my articles in the past four years know that I’m a huge fan of psychology and emotions in sports. And along those lines, it’s absolutely uncanny how similar the Penguins and the Steelers are in this respect. The Steelers have become all too predictable, especially the seasons after a Super Bowl win, for playing down to the level of their opponents. I specifically remember the 2007 season, when the Steelers started the season 3-0 and headed west to Arizona to face the then woeful Cardinals. I blogged for both the Steelers and Penguins at MVN at the time and I feared the trap game, and sure enough, the previously undefeated Steelers lost 21-14. They repeated that woeful performance on the road at a mediocre Denver team a couple weeks later, then again at the NY Jets. The commonality of those three losses were that it was plainly obvious that the Steelers walked onto that field, said to themselves “we’re the f#$kin’ Steelers, bow down and worship us”, and expected that the opposition would simply allow them to run up and down the field. You could see the same thing this past season, and it cost the Steelers a playoff spot.
Now, I don’t believe that Sid, Geno, Flower and the Penguins as a whole acted as nonchalant as those Steelers, don’t get me wrong. But I do believe, in all honesty, that the Penguins were a victim of the opposition, whether that was the Canadiens or even earlier in the playoffs against Ottawa, have a greater sense of urgency during their playoff series. And that was evident watching as the Pens were out-hustled, out-hit and out-worked. Maybe it was a lack of total concentration, maybe it was a lack of complete focus. Perhaps that lack of concentration and focus resulted in those painfully soft goals that Fleury gave up early in the games. Or watching the Pens’ defense collapse in their own end all too many times.
Whatever the reason, the Penguins’ early exit this season should be a wake-up call to their still-young “core”. The regular season is a long haul, just as the 16-win playoffs are a long haul. But when it comes to winning the Cup, one thing is clear, you need to “bring it” every night. You can probably get away with one stinker in a series. However, you’re not going to go far in today’s NHL if your opponent is skating circles around you, or getting to loose pucks before you, or if your goalie is giving up more than a rare soft goal. This is where I believe the Penguins are still in very good shape. I think we can all agree that Sidney Crosby will do his best to not allow his team to regularly lose its concentration, lose its focus.
The offseason for the Penguins is just getting started, with the draft coming up in a couple of weeks followed by a very busy free agency period for GMRS and a plethora of soon-to-be free agents. This team could look very different by the time training camp opens up. Certainly, the signing, or lack thereof, of Sergei Gonchar will be the main domino, either for GMRS to replace him or to simply fill in the holes of the roster caused by the departures of any of the other free agents.
Regardless of how the team looks by early October as they hit the ice in the Consol Energy Center, let’s all hope that they’ve learned their lesson over the summer.