How can a team with Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Perron, Kunitz, Hornqvist, and Bennett struggle so mightily to score goals? Do we in Pittsburgh over-value these guys? Perhaps for a couple of them, but on this list there are supposed to be elite level, generational talent. That talent level should never struggle to score goals, especially on the power play. So here's my take:
1) Pens are too soft. Since Therrien left, the Pens have become more free-wheeling and less responsible. I don't want this team to become the NJ Devils West, but lack of responsibility and accountability--both to your coach and teammates--has destroyed this team for years.
2) Poor roster construction. Look at the teams dominating out west and even the top East teams. Out west we see size and strength along with skill. Out East, speed is emphasized. In Pittsburgh, they are too small to compete with the Elite Western teams, and out East, it seems as if all the top teams are much much faster than the Penguins. Especially NY Islanders and Tampa.
3) Very Poor officiating. The NHL has returned to the stone age of the mid 1990's. Officials are afraid to make the calls, hiding behind this insane belief that "they don't want to decide games". Hogwash. NBA and NCAA basketball officials have no problem making a call in the final seconds of the game. And as we see with the Pens power play, a PP is not an automatic goal. Why does the League continue to want the game to resemble Soccer on Ice? Start calling penalties--especially hooking, holding and interference. How about a return to the goal tending equipment of the early 1990s and late 80's? These are supposed to be athletes, not Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men. These changes would allow for more free flowing offense and an emphasis on skill.
4) A coach that commands the respect of the players and a GM who will ship out those who aren't buying in. I have no problem with what GM Jim Rutherford has done so far. However, Mike Johnston as coach is another issue. Back-to-Back games where cheap, lazy penalties were taken creating 5 on 3 power plays for the opposition LATE in the 3rd period of 1-1 games indicates that either the coaches arent doing their jobs (accepting those actions) OR the players have tuned out the staff. In either case, it is time for a change. If Babcock becomes available after the season, jump on him and send Johnston on his way. If NOT, then DUMP the players who refuse to buy-in and listen to the coaches.
5) Trust your youth! I keep hearing the Pens want to get experienced D Men for the playoff charge. WHY? No one on the market will be an improvement over Despres or Poulliot. And those two wont cost you any assets!
The Pens are at a very critical point in their franchise. Another failure cannot be tolerated. A first round loss--likely given their horrible record against likely playoff foes NY Rangers, NY Islanders, and Washington--must result in additional changes. Since it will have been 6 years since their last CONFERENCE FINAL VICTORY, MUCH LESS STANLEY CUP, it is clear that the current franchise model does NOT work. So if they lose again this spring, BLOW the Roster up, and deal one of your mega stars. Nothing would send a stronger message to the team left behind. It might just actually catch their attention.