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Are these Penguins who we think they are?

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Full disclosure: I wasn’t IN the Penguins dressing room after their stunning collapse into a 4-2 loss to the Bruins at Consol Energy Center on Monday night. That game changed so fast that my game story had to be completely rewritten with less than 3 minutes left, so I sent my intrepid No. 2 Josh Yohe to gather quotes. Upon his return, Josh mentioned that D BROOKS ORPIK greeted the media by saying, “Well we must have lost, that’s the only time you guys come over here.”

I’ve heard that sentiment before from Orpik, who, to be fair, is the go-to guy for the media after Penguins’ losses. That has a lot to do with his candor, which is an appreciated quality in a sport that is increasingly littered with personalities who say too little that is actually on their minds.

Speaking of candor, here is some from the beat boy: As a Stanley Cup contender goes, this team might be more of a house of cards.

Too harsh?

The Penguins are 14-14-4 aside from their 12-game winning streak, not that anybody can exclude 12 straight wins. Also, they’ve yet to play more than two games with their three best offensive players in the lineup, as centers Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin and (now) Sidney Crosby have all missed multiple games with injuries.

I’d like to see this team healthy, as I’m sure would management.

Still, that winning streak masks a lot of otherwise ordinary play, and it came against teams that as of Monday were 184-192-34.

They beat only two potential playoff teams (Rangers, Thrashers) along that run.

Maybe everybody, me especially, has greatly overestimated just how good this team is. They are 8-9-2 against Eastern Conference teams that began Monday among the top-8 playoff field.

Something Minnesota coach TODD RICHARDS said after his Wild won, 4-0, at Consol on Saturday night: “I sensed a frustrated group over on the other side, at least looking at their body language.”

The Penguins have played 44 games, and general opinion is that Games 40-60 are the toughest to play for any NHL team. If the Penguins can just play .500 over that 20-game stretch they should be in good shape to make a run at, minimum, a No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

But like somebody with a concussion, this team seems like something is just a bit off.

It blows leads at home late. Its power play is bottom-third for a second straight season. But it scores with the best of teams, and give up fewer goals than almost everybody else.

I’m of the firm belief that nothing this team does from October-March will matter. It is built to win in April, May and June.

So maybe this recent wobbly stretch from the last three weeks is nothing to get worked up about, after all.

But two months ago to the day of this latest loss I wondered in print if the Penguins had hit “rock bottom.” This loss to the Bruins’ felt different than that one on Nov. 10, but only because this time it felt like the roof on Consol caved in.

“We’ve got to learn to close out games,” D ZBYNEK MICHALEK said.

Yeah, and how to beat a trap, score on the power play consistently, and get C EVGENI MALKIN going in the direction that two-time MVP runner-ups should go.

About half of the regular season remains. At this point all we know about the Penguins is that we’ve not seen them at full strength, and aside from a big undefeated streak, they’ve resulted pretty average.

 

Cheers,
Rossi

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

 
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