DALLAS – Sometimes it is more about how they don’t say it.
The Penguins, losers of two ugly games this past week, each against lesser opponents, did well on Saturday night to dismiss any notion they are struggling to find incentive right now.
As of Sunday morning their division lead is 17 points, their conference advantage is at 7 points.
Some perspective on how difficult it is to make up point gaps in an NHL that awards teams points for losing in overtime or a shootout. The Penguins were 5 points from a playoff spot with 25 games remaining five years ago.
They went 18-3-4 to close – earning 80 percent of available points – and made the playoffs by 3 points.
Two more duds over the final two months – or, two games like losses this past week to Florida and Dallas – and the Penguins would not have made the playoffs the year they won the Stanley Cup.
Making up points in the second half of the NHL season is not impossible, but it’s a damn difficult task, and one the Penguins do not face.
Mix that with the elephant in the dressing room – that nothing matters except getting at least back to the conference final, and probably to the Cup Final – and it is easy to assess the Penguins are lacking a bit of urgency.
“I don’t think so,” winger Craig Adams said. “You want to win every game. You don’t go into a game thinking, ‘Hey, let’s just take this one off.’
“But obviously (the) combination of desperation and focus hasn’t been there enough.”
Adams has never played the role of liar.
Some of his teammates, though, seemed not to believe completely the words they offered about stagnancy creeping into the Penguins’ play.
“I don’t know if guy are thinking about that or not,” winger Tanner Glass said. “The goal every night is to come out and play hard, play with urgency. It hasn’t been there.”
The Penguins are 9-4-1 since Pascal Dupuis was injured, and that accounts for about 29 percent of their regulation losses. Of course, when there are only 14 regulation losses, a run like the one the Penguins are on over the last month will mean a lot bigger chunk of the defeats.
Keep in mind – or don’t, since panic is all the rage for fans of the Flightless Fowl – that a lot of the same teams that worry the fan base as potential playoff foes have yet to go on a 9-4-1 run all season.
The Penguins appear to be slipping only because of their absurd 16-2-1 march from Nov. 15-Dec. 21, when they routinely played with no fewer than four AHL regulars in the lineup, and often without a couple of stars and role players.
Perhaps these eyes belong to someone too deep in the forest, as beat reporters can become; but this does not resemble two years ago, when the Penguins seemingly became full of themselves upon Sidney Crosby’s second return from concussion and completely lost their identity over the final six weeks then were Blitzkrieged by Philadelphia in Round 1 of the playoffs.
This DOES look like a team trying to find its identity while playing a stretch with regulars for the first time.
This also looks like a team getting the best shot from every opponent, and perhaps a team not super keen on blowing itself out in January.
Maybe – at least, it should not be dismissed – this looks like a team that really needs its best players to be great every night because there is less depth to this lineup than any of the Dan Bylsma era.
There are 30 games left, and 24 of those will be played after the Olympic break.
If the Penguins look a bit up-and-down in March, then there is something to think about regarding this club’s Cup chances.
It’s not even February yet.
>> More of less, as the GAME STORY recaps: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5448253-74/penguins-dallas-loss#axzz2rTjOyg2i
>> Columnist Joe Starkey with a real worthy read about the Penguins’ connections to Herb Brooks: http://triblive.com/sports/joestarkey/5448260-74/brooks-bylsma-herb#axzz2rTjOyg2i
>> Sergei Gonchar’s advice is not to sweat the Olympic threats: http://triblive.com/sports/olympics/moreolympics/5482591-74/gonchar-russia-olympics#axzz2rTjOyg2i
>> Jonathan Bombulies’s Don’t Miss This AHL Penguins piece: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5448095-74/games-despres-blueger#axzz2rTjOyg2i
>> ICYMI, Josh Yohe’s look at the Penguins’ push to get together on defense: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5448186-74/letang-scuderi-penguins#axzz2rTjOyg2i
Check on your neighbors. Offer to shovel your parents’ sidewalk. Wear thick socks. Greet your paper delivery/postal carrier folks with hot chocolate.
Basically, be EXCELLENT to each other,