January 21, 2016
by Bill West
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Usually the questions asked at Penguins morning skates cover a range of topics, from line arrangements to injury updates to the night’s opponent to ongoing narratives for individual players.
This morning’s session, held just hours before the Penguins’ first meeting of the season with Philadelphia, lacked such diversity.
Rarely did conversation stray from the tense, sometimes hostile relationship between the Penguins and Flyers, who’ve won the last eight meetings. Players, though eager to come across as diplomatic, did little to dispel the notion that these teams dislike each other and that the Flyers tend to dictate the nature of the games.
“I don’t think it’s about the Flyers,” Kris Letang said of the losing streak. “I think it’s about ourselves. We shoot ourselves in the foot every time we play. We get too emotional about it.”
Even players who’ve never participated in the Penguins-Flyers games stuck to the rugged-rivarly script. Only one prominent figure, coach Mike Sullivan, refused to go along with the storyline the media craved.
“This is a new group,” Sullivan said. “I’m aware of the history. I’m aware of the rivalry and the emotions that are associated with it. … For me, what’s in the past is in the past.”
Did Sullivan’s desire to distance himself from his predecessors’ struggles against the Flyers surprise anyone? Not really. There’s little incentive for him to embrace the Penguins’ 0-4 record against the Flyers in 2014-15 or their 1-4 record in 2013-14.
But he’s also fairly honest in his description of his players as a “new group.” Yes, the Penguins’ stars remain the same. New faces dot the bottom two forward lines and the defensive pairings, though.
Consider the now former Penguins who received ice time in the team’s final meeting with the Flyers last season: Craig Adams, Taylor Chorney, Blake Comeau, Maxim Lapierre, Paul Martin, David Perron, Rob Scuderi, Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter, Thomas Greiss and Daniel Winnik.
Also contemplate the former Penguins who skated the last time the team beat Philadelphia (4-1 on Oct. 17, 2013): Adams, Robert Bortuzzo, Pascal Dupuis, Deryk Engelland, Tanner Glass, Jussi Jokinen, Chuck Kobasew, Martin, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Scuderi, Sutter, Joe Vitale and Harry Zolnierczyk.
Are Phil Kessel, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, Eric Fehr, Matt Cullen and the Baby Pens call-ups all part of the Penguins’ solution? We’ll see. But if the Penguins follow Sullivan’s lead, they’re almost certain to put a better product on the ice than what fans at Consol Energy Center tend to see when the Flyers visit.
And if you have little faith in Sullivan, just take a look at the chart below, which effectively captures how much the Penguins’ style has changed in the past month-plus.