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Are these Penguins who we think they are?


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.




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.


  1. Mike says:

    Rob, I’m glad you pointed this out. In some ways (not all) it’s similar to last year: Nice performances often, but how good are we really when we play a real contender? Average or worse. If we’re playing the hindsight game, I thought on July 1st that one of Michalek or Martin combined with a lesser D signing would have been fine. Use the rest for a $2-3 million winger. This team needs someone else to step up offensively and when it matters. Malkin is a head scratcher this year, but the team only has two forwards total that can do things on their own.

  2. mario says:

    all other problems aside, we’re going on 2 seasons now of the pathetic, powerless powerplay…. what’s that saying, coaches coach, players play, well its the COACHES J-O-B to put his players in the best possible situation to WIN & produce…continuing to do the SAMETHINGS on the pp & expecting different results…(STOP THE INSANITY) & yes, did shero overpay Z & Martin, $5 & $4 million a yr, …

  3. San Hell says:

    Stupid penalty by Orpik cost us the momentum and the game.. Give up the “A”, Brooksy..

  4. Tim says:

    This is a good team, but they have failed to win 2 of the 3 “big games”. They failed to win the arena opener and the Winter Classic. Those failures lead me to believe this team fails to rise to the next level needed in the playoffs.

  5. Frank says:

    In my opinion, people in this city overestimate our wingers.

    Even when all three are healthy (71,87,11) and playing together, I still feel we need more offense on those wings. While players like Talbot, Kennedy and Dupuis are fine 3rd/4th line players to have on your roster, these guys are not legitimate 1st/2nd line talent. As much as people love certain aspects of each individuals game, people are kidding themselves if they actually believe these guys should be playing alongside the likes of Crosby, Malkin and Staal.

    Dupuis – 1 goal in his last 14.

    Kennedy – 1 goal in his last 16.

    Talbot – 0 goals in his last 18.

    Talbot is a guy who has regularly been playing with the best overall hockey player in the game and he still can’t find the back of the net. Great locker room guy, great personality, solid 3rd/4th line player, but he is not a top-six forward.

    If Shero chooses not to re-sign Tyler Kennedy at the end of the season, TK can’t leave here saying he never got a shot to play with top-notch talent. Over the years, Kennedy has been given more opportunities than any other player on that roster and the results are always the same…mediocrity.

    Dupuis will produce the way he did in late-October and then we don’t hear from him for 8-10 games. Like Talbot, I like the guy and he is a solid 3rd/4th line player, but that’s where it ends for me. There is not enough consistency in his game.

    Again, I have nothing against the players mentioned. I am not stating they are horrible hockey players, the opposite actually. I just don’t feel they are legitimate wingers to have on your top-two lines. I think at some point, Shero will have to make a move(s). By no means am I suggesting we blow up the entire team, but trading prospects/picks/depth in order to get that winger or wingers is a path that I wouldn’t mind seeing Ray Shero take this year.


    We can continue to watch Bylsma attempt to put a square peg in a round hole by throwing guys like Kennedy, Talbot and Dupuis on the top-two lines and expecting them to produce goals on a consistent basis. Then we can sit here and wonder why Crosby is the only guy who scores goals for this team on a consistent basis. This team needs more offense.

  6. che says:

    It’s all about coaching, Rob’s noted it right – generally the picture is the same as the last year. This coach is simply not able to build a team to a better level than it is now. If he remains in position, we will get nothing more than another 1st or 2nd round knockout by another good-but-not-outstanding team.

  7. Jason says:

    The bottom line is what it has always been of the 12 forwards they currently use only 4 of them are skilled players, The 8 other forwards are all the SAME the have NO ability to score or even create scoring chances which is what i think thier fringe coach wants…Their coach says the same thing all the time “getting to their game” and he has been saying it for almost 2 full seasons now and the truth of the matter is it doesnt work against good teams when 95% of your offense comes from one player.This team is no differnt than last year first or second round playoff loss, they are full of themselves and vastly over-rated.

  8. dwf says:

    It is refreshing to hear a local sportswriter that is starting to be a little bit unbiased when talking about the Pens. Too many times not only with the Trib, but also the PG the sportswriters are soooo careful to not say anything that may “upset” the players. Or cast a negative shadow. But, isn’t that part of a good sportswriter’s job is to ask the difficult questions and write about what they see? Even if it might ruffle a few feathers?

    The truth of the matter is the Penguins are not that good!! They have a very difficult time beating the good teams. They seem to be lacking the “killer” instinct to close teams out. I hear all of you diehard Pens fans now screaming they had a 12 game winning streak and are only one point behind the Flyers, blah, blah, blah. There are at least 6 teams in the East that are playing way better hockey these days than the Pens. Once again, I can hear the diehards screaming “Sid is out of the lineup”! Well, injuries are going to happen and the good teams don’t let that stop them from continuing to win games.

    I feel while this year’s defense while better than last years, still lacks a legitimate shutdown pairing. Michalek and Martin are both overrated especially, Michalek. As far as the whole Malkin thing this year, he is in a single word AWFUL!! He only shows up to play when he feels like it, which hasn’t been very often. When things are going his “way” Geno is unstoppable. However, when they are not…well we see a completely different player. One that is hardly worth the 8.7 million cap hit he occupies. Once again, this is where you diehards start making excuses for Geno and the Pens.

    Oh yeah, if the Pens continue to play like this in January and February then we won’t have to worry about watching them in April, May, or June.

  9. tomas says:

    Bylsma and Granato are the problem. Country club atmosphere and the silly playing of AHL level players like Letestu, Conner, Lovejoy and Jeffrey makes this team play like its shorthanded every game. Bylsma has completely mishandled Malkin & Talbot and both have regressed under his coaching. Where’s Tangradi? 16 goals in the AHL and can’t get his chance. That’s just another sign of the failure of Dan Bylsma. The Pens have a few wildcards going into the playoffs to offset the terrible Dan Bylsma. Fleury could get hot or Tom Fitzgerald could come down from the front office again and do some real coaching and as long as you have Sidney Crosby on this team even a cardboard cutout would look good behind this bench.

  10. Jerry Bevil says:

    I believe along with alot of fans.It’s time to pull the trigger on a trade for Malkin.Sid has progressed every year with this team.Malkin seems to be regressing.My feeling is Jordan Staal can hold down the center position nicely with another solid scoring forward.Right now the pens could possibly get two top forwards and a draft pick for Malkin.One on Sids line and another on Staals line.Throw Tyler and Dupuis in with the trade also.Pens could bring up a couple kids that produce the same amount those two do.Also save some room under the cap to get another player at the deadline.This is not working with Malkin.Lets try something new?

  11. Jim R. says:

    All the bloggers above agree that the Penguins need more scoring wingers. I totally agree as well. However my concern is that the defensemen of the Penguins can not match up against the other top contenders in the league in a best of 7 playoff series.
    Goligoski is to small. Great skater, smart player, but only 5’10” on a good day. About 180 pounds ?? Should trade him for a scoring winger with size.!
    Paul Martin is another great skater, but only average in size. A bargin at $ 5 million some say !! When the Penguins won the cup in 2009, they had Gill, 6’7”, 250 plus pounds, Scurdei 6’2″ , 220 and he was tough to play against. Eaton,Orpik, Lepold, and Goncher as well ! All men of about 6’2″ and 220 pounds or so.
    My point is it seems to me that while the defense has gotten a little faster, over all as a group, they have gotten smaller and softer as well. Thank God for Derek E.
    Besides 2 or 3 scoring wingers, the Pens are going to have to find another large, physical, D man if they hope to advance past round 2 this year in the playoffs.
    Team Defense wins Stanley Cups !!!

  12. pawjoggin says:

    its pretty easy to say we need wingers ,but look at who has more giveaways then any one else on team,dont get me wrong crosby and malkin are great players ,and great players should make the other players better,sure if the pens had every high scoring winger in the league and all the best defence in the league and the best goalies the stanley cup would be an easy accomplishment,but history in the nhl shows different,,the grinders and the muckers,role players are the ones that win stanley cups,not superstars,superstars win seasons and scoring trophies,grinders and muckers win series,that win you stanleys.The newyork rangers tried many of seasons ,before the salary cap ,to sign every top notch scoring player in the nhl ,and what did they win,notta!So i say kudos to pitts role players,the role players do as they should,but are the superstars playing super?

  13. Phil says:

    If they won last night’s game, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this. Both late penalties were VERY borderline. True they did score on both of them, which is uncharacteristic of the pk team. The one bad goal was the second when no one covered the goal scorer.

    I find myself pissed about the loss but still very optimistic about the season. Fleury is playing the best he EVER has, in my opinion, and that by itself is a huge improvement over last year. The only thing to worry about is Sid’s health. These concussions are bad things. If he recovers completely and we are healthy going into the playoffs, I like our chances. Or put it this way, if we are healthy, who will beat us?

  14. Dave says:

    If the players on this team that are paid to produce, would produce, they’d be fine. The biggest offenders on this team are Malkin and Martin. Martin is being paid big money and can’t QB the PP, doesn’t put points up 5-5, and plays a putrid defensive game. For sure, he’s been a bust. Malkin is being paid the exact same salary as Sid, and produces little more than Chris Kunitz (who, BTW, is having a solid season).

    Our team is built around three centers – Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Staal missed training camp and over 41 games. It’ll clearly take him a long while to get into mid-season form. Crosby has been playing lights out, and is surely a candidate for MVP. Malkin? He’s been MIA for a season and a half now. Without him producing at the level he’s expected, and paid to produce at, this team will fall short.

    I’m betting that Staal will get into form by the playoffs, and Crosby will be… well, Crosby. But if Malkin and Martin don’t start pulling the weight of their salary’s, we could see another early exit.

  15. Ray Boniface says:

    This piece nicely sums up what I’ve been wondering and worrying about.
    Not enough discipline shown by this team to beat contenders.
    Too many bad penalties. Too many fights.
    Too many D-men running all over the ice at the wrong time.
    I find Bylsma an appealing coach, but I wonder if he’s able to inspire the necessary disciplined play.
    It’s not lack of offense that blew at least 5 late leads this year, 5 games that would have turned around the stats Rob cited.
    14-14-4 becomes 19-9-4.

  16. harp says:

    Halfway through the season and I am not seeing why Michalek was so highly rated. He’s a -6 while even Engelland is at zero. I believe Lovejoy could do everything he is for a fraction of the cost. They should trade him for a real winger for Crosby on the top line.

    I am also surprised they spent so much on Michalek when they have some good talent in the minors who might be ready in a year or two, Dupres to name one.
    Nothing against him but he’s not playing at a 4M D-man.
    By now he should have grasped the system and it does not appear he has and I have witnesses him make some huge mistakes late in games that cost a goal or the game.

    Bottom line he’s playing like a 3rd liner but being paid like a top liner.

  17. joe says:

    so…….the Pens are 4th in the NHL in points and have not been able to play together all season and everyone is crying to trade Malkin, Martin, and Michalek. Are you serious???? everyone take a zanex and relax for a second. THE PENS ARE 4TH WITH MALKIN PLAYING TERRIBLE, FLEURY STARTING TERRIBLE, STAAL NOT STARTING AND SOME SLOW PLAY FROM MICHALEK AND MARTIN. YOU ALL SOUND STUPID RIGHT NOW. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER SARGES FIRST YEAR???? ACT LIKE EDUCATED FANS FOR ONCE.

  18. DB says:

    I didnt know Vancouver wasn’t a playoff team, since ya know, they have the best record in the NHL. Do your hw. And we beat Atlanta twice. And completely trashed the conference leading Lightning 8-1 a week ago, made them look like men amongst boys. 12 games is nearly 1/6 of the season, and we hit a small rut it’s time to call the Pens a house of cards because they are in a 3 game January funk? With the best player in the world, a group of guys who know how to win in the playoffs(8-2 series-wise over the last 3 years, if you like to play the little irrelevant stats game), a much better defense than last year, and a stanley cup winning goalie?

    Remember when Gene Collier called the Pens dead in the water in ’08? Do you really want to ruin your street cred with this mindless drivel? Cmon Rossi. We were pampered for 12 games. Lost a couple, then won 3 in a row. Now we have gone 0-2-1, and you are questioning crap. I hope tonights game in MTL set your mind straight. They just were not playing good hockey as a team. It could happen again. What the hell did you want, a 24 game win streak? The presidents trophy? Yeah, that team hasnt won a cup since ’02.

    You know we have a good team, and you know we are going to be there in the end in the east. Your arguments hold no merit. Recognize the ebbs and flows of a hockey season and stop being such a hater when the team you cover is on a 3 out of 82 game losing streak. If you like writing during losing streaks, join the Pittsburgh Pirates beat writiers.

    The pens are .500, besides their 12 game win streak. Thats a third of their season.

    Besides 2,131 games played, Cal Ripken didn’t play that many games in a row, nor did he after. So that makes the streak irrelevant.

    Retard Stat Wizard Rossi, get with it.

  19. sjb says:

    People need to stop shouting stats as a reason the Pens are just fine. This reminds me of Dave Molinari somehow not being able to comprehend how a team finishing with 105 points got bounced by the Sens in the 2007 playoffs (with a very strong season from Malkin mind you). If people can’t simply “watch” games and figure out something is off then they shouldn’t bother arguing. Everyone repeat with me: “It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” and right now, the Pens inconsistent play is questionable at best, regardless of wins or losses, streaks and whether Crosby is playing or not. Until they can play well enough to hold late leads, can mount something resembling a come back late in games instead of wilting while putting up 2 shots in the final period in a big game and can beat the better teams in it’s own division enough to be at least .500 against them, it’s all going to blow up in their faces again in April. This team has played just as badly at times this season as it has played well and that’s reason for concern and right now they are just as big a paper tiger and Washington was last season.

    If Malkin plays out the rest of this season under-achieving yet again, then they need to seriously consider trading him to spread the $$ around and give this team some much needed scoring depth finally so it can at least sustain a period of Crosby not playing, or eventually being bottled up by a teams top defensive pairing. Come this years playoffs, if Malkin still isn’t producing, it will be hard to advance at all let alone think Stanley Cup. This isn’t just this season short term people, this is the same lax play that Malkin had last season too and why it was so very easy for Montreal to snuff any offensive production from our top line with or without Malkin on it. If it’s all because of injury, well, it seems to be chronic at this point and I’d rather have him be injured somewhere else.

    The only plus side to this team, this season, is we can get some added scoring from the defense but that ain’t happening if they are spending the 3rd period of games locked up in their own end.

    Not oddly enough you’ll find the same people who think the Pens are just fine now also though holding onto Godard was also a good thing. Like he was somehow ever important to the team going into this season, or will be some crucial asset come the playoffs. That’s right folks, other than some trivial playoff seeding, which has been proven time and time again doesn’t really matter, the regular season means SQUAT and I don’t get the feeling this team is even built for a deep playoff run as it currently stands, regardless if they win another 12 in a row or win the President’s trophy.

    Also, it’s amazing how someone who criticizes Rob for using stats goes and builds his whole argument around even more useless stats. Cal Ripken stats?!…how if the F is that even relevant?! What’s next, calories from fat versus calories from protein?

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