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April 15, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: Pens-Jackets By-the-Metrics

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Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.

 

>> The FACTOR: Pens vs. Jackets

The Penguins may have held a 5-0 record over the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the advanced metrics for these two teams indicate this playoff should be much closer than many have anticipated.

Let’s start by looking at a few even-strength based metrics surrounding goals to show the small gap between these clubs. The Penguins scored 161 goals at even-strength this year, 10 better than the Blue Jackets (151). However, the Blue Jackets have allowed only 144 goals against at even-strength this year, 10 better than the Penguins (154). Both teams have an identical goals-for percentage of 51.1 percent.

The similarities continue when we take a look at Fenwick numbers for these teams. Fenwick tracks all shot attempts directed at a team’s net (saves, shots that hit the post, shots that hit miss the net); but it excludes blocked shots. I like to use this number for the NHL postseason analysis since blocked shots increase in frequency during the playoffs.

This season, the Penguins had a Fenwick-For percentage of 50.2 percent, meaning that 50.2 percent of all shooting attempts at even-strength that were not blocked belonged to the Penguins. Columbus boasts a nearly identical number at 50.8 percent. The two teams launch shots at the net at almost an identical rate.

A key match-up in this series is the bottom-six forwards. The Blue Jackets feature Artem Anisimov and former-Penguin Mark Letestu centering the third and fourth lines, respectively. These lines have boasted some fairly good numbers this season for the Blue Jackets. Letestu and Anisimov have been on the ice for 63 even-strength goals this season. Brandon Sutter and Craig Adams – the duo likely to center the bottom six lines for the Penguins – have only been on the ice for 33 even-strength goals scored this season, and have been on the ice for 61 total goals against.

The Penguins’ third and fourth lines may not need to generate offense for the Penguins to win this series, but they need to generate momentum and keep the puck out of their own net.

One area in which the Penguins hold a distinct advantage is in the special teams battle between these clubs. Columbus was 1-for-14 (7.1 percent) on the power play against the Penguins, who went 5-for-17 (26.3 percent).

One final note: Of the 300 minutes of hockey played between these teams in the regular season, the Blue Jackets held a lead for only 56 seconds of that time. That’s important when you consider how these teams operate when scoring first. The Penguins boast a .841 winning percentage when scoring the first goal. The Blue Jackets only win .281 percent of their games when allowing the first goal, a number that was good for 18th in the NHL. With the Blue Jackets having 251 total postseason games played among their roster to the Penguins’ 1,154, playoff experience – particularly when it comes to the first goal-scored – might decide the series.

 

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

 

 

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April 14, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Crosby snagged scoring title – and rest

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Sidney Crosby has his second scoring title.

He also had off two of the Penguins’ final four games.

Which is more important to the big picture that will be the Penguins’ 2014 postseason?

The club is off Monday. The playoffs open Wednesday with Game 1 against Columbus at Consol Energy Center. Our #TribHKY team is hard at work on stories that should get the Dear Readers prepared for the playoffs.

We dropped the puck on our expanded coverage Monday, and it begins with this Melanie Wass designed info graphic on “The New Guys” for this playoff party:

Pensplayoff01

 

 

>> The Blue Jackets admit they have paid the Penguins too much respect. Will the awe-factor be in play for Round 1? http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5905514-74/penguins-blue-jackets#axzz2yjWLnbAC

 

>> Notes on Crosby’s nearly complete season, a puzzling scratch of Brandon Sutter, and the Evgeni Malkin watch: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5905526-74/crosby-penguins-games#axzz2yjWLnbAC

 

>> It was hard to watch, as was most of the final few weeks. Josh Yohe reports on a meh finale to an otherwise outstanding regular season: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5942787-74/penguins-game-ottawa#axzz2yjWLnbAC

 

>> Jason Mackey did some deep digging to scout the Penguins-Blue Jackets matchup. You’ll like this, PuckHeads: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5925543-74/penguins-game-blue#axzz2yjWLnbAC

 

>> Oh, you didn’t know? Well, here is the Round 1 schedule: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5943112-74/game-april-games#axzz2yjWLnbAC

 

>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic is of the opinion that Round 1 is win-or-get lost for the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5905530-74/penguins-blue-jackets#axzz2yjWLnbAC

 

>> FROM SUNDAY, columnist Joe Starkey witnessed the unofficial return of Kris Letang: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5905341-74/letang-game-hartnell

 

>> Also, FROM SUNDAY, contributor Jonathan Bombulie’s look at the AHL depth on defense: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5904836-74/season-goals-penguins

 

>> Also, FROM SUNDAY, Trib editor/designer Mark Stevens with a wonderful graphic take on my reasons the Penguins will/won’t win the Cup:

PlayoffReasons

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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April 14, 2014
by Josh Yohe


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Pens/Blue Jackets playoff schedule

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Here’s the schedule for Pens/Blue Jackets:

Game 1: Wednesday, April 16, 7:30 p.m. at Consol Energy Center

Game 2: Saturday, April 19, 7 p.m. at Consol Energy Center

Game 3: Monday, April 21, 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena

Game 4: Wednesday, April 23, 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena

Game 5: Saturday, April 26, time TBD at Consol Energy Center*

Game 6: Monday, April 28, time TBD at Nationwide Arena*

Game 7: Wednesday, April 30, time TBD at Consol Energy Center*

* If necessary

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April 10, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: The metrics behind Crosby’s MVP case

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Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.

 

>> FACTORING SID FOR HART

It’s easy to point to Sidney Crosby as the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy, an award presented annually to “the player judged to be most valuable to his team,” simply because of his 17-point lead over Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf in the NHL scoring race.

But there’s more than meets the eye to Crosby’s 102 point season, especially when you dive into advanced metrics to see how he’s impacted the offensive production of the Penguins as a whole.

Let’s start at even-strength, where the Penguins have scored 157 goals this season. Crosby has been on the ice for 67 of those even-strength goals. Almost half (42 percent) of all the goals scored by the Penguins.

Out of Crosby’s presence on the ice for those 67 goals, he’s registered a point on 57 of them. So not only has Crosby been on the ice for nearly half of the teams even-strength goals, he’s registered a point on 85 percent of all the goals he’s been on the ice for, a number that is tops for the Penguins roster this season.

But let’s dive into these numbers even further. Out of Crosby’s 57 even-strength points, 45 of them are defined as primary points. A primary point is a goal or first assist on a goal. This isn’t meant to diminish the second assist, which is more important than ever in today’s NHL, but it’s a testament to the direct impact that Crosby has on his club. In fact, of Crosby’s 102 total points this season, 68 of them are goals and primary assists. If you took Crosby’s second assists out of his point totals, he’d have the same number of points as the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews and would still be in the top 20 scorers in the NHL.

An important distinction to make in evaluating these numbers is Crosby’s quality of competition this season. In looking at the possession-based metrics of Crosby’s opponents, one thing is clear: coach Dan Bylsma has never put Crosby in more difficult situations than he has this year. Crosby is only starting 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, a number that is about 4 percent down from his yearly averages. Also, he’s facing competition that is roughly 30 percent more difficult than he’s ever experienced in his career based on shooting attempts alone.

Not only has Crosby produced offensively, he’s been just as potent defensively. The Penguins have allowed 148 goals against at even-strength this year, with Crosby only appearing on the ice for 50 of those goals against for 33 percent total.

The Penguins also face less shots when Crosby is on the ice, a testament to how well his line as possessed the puck this season. The Penguins average 24 shots against per 60 minutes that Crosby is on the ice. With Crosby averaging just over 21 minutes at even-strength per game, that equates to about 7.8 shots every three games. Only one Penguin is better in that regard; Matt Niskanen falls in at 23.3.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs slated to start in a week, Penguin fans can rest easy knowing that the Crosby show can continue for at least a first round performance. And if the regular season is any indication, the MVP-like performance should continue when the games really count.

 

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

 

 

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April 9, 2014
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: Remembering Mario Magic

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Greetings, hockey fans.

Those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh all have our favorite Mario Lemieux memory, right?

For many, the nights he raised the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992 will always represent that perfect memory. Others surely will mention Dec. 27, 2000, when he came out of retirement in remarkable fashion, notching a goal and two assists.

There is the “five-goal-five-different-ways” game and so many others.

Me? I’d like to direct you to April 9, 1993. You’re surely familiar with this game because the NHL Network showed replays of it pretty much every day during its top-notch coverage of the lockout. (That’s sarcasm.)

The Penguins beat the Rangers in Madison Square Garden that night, winning their 16th straight game, which set an NHL record. They’d beat the Rangers the following night to win No. 17, a record that stands a generation later.

Yes, the victory was historical. But what truly stands out from that night was Lemieux’s performance. For all of his gifts – and no hockey player ever possessed more gifts – one of Lemieux’s greatest traits was his ability to slow the game to his pace. There has never been anything like it.

Watch Crosby or Malkin, Ovechkin or Stamkos. They’re all wonderful, all future Hall-of-Famers. But there is an almost frantic quality to their play, especially Crosby and Ovechkin. They’re almost always in a hurry, which isn’t a bad thing. It suits them well, in fact.

But the beautiful thing about Mario was that he was never in a hurry. While on the power play, with the puck, he’d often completely ignore the man defending him to direct traffic with his left arm. He would literally slow the game to crawl simply because he could, I guess.

Never was this on greater display than on that night at MSG.

Lemieux had to be tired. After all, he had just missed a couple of months while battling cancer. He endured a series of radiation treatments that badly fatigued him. Still, he returned on March 2 and went on one of the greatest scoring binges of his career, this from a man who specialized in scoring binges. Mario produced 30 goals and 26 assists in the 20 regular season games he played after returning to the lineup. Look at those numbers again.

And remember, his back was not 100 percent during this time. Not even close.

Still, at age 27, his physical gifts remained at their peak. Against the Rangers, he scored five goals and it felt like he could have scored eight or nine, if he so desired. You’ll notice in many of these goals, Lemieux almost looks like he’s playing the game in slow motion. And yet, none of the Rangers could catch him all night. Again, it was an almost superhuman ability that you probably had to witness in person to truly appreciate it.

Please note the third goal of the five. It occurred in the second period after receiving a lead pass from goalie Tom Barrasso, who had incredibly puck handling skills.

Mario was killing a penalty and had been on the ice for an eternity. He was pulled down and no penalty was called. As he would sometimes do, he stayed on the ice for quite some time, staring down the referee. He finally got up, and was about to skate to the bench when he spotted Barrasso with the puck, and went for the breakaway.

He skated in slow motion on the breakaway, obviously out of gas. But it didn’t matter. If you were watching, you knew he was going to score. After being embraced by teammate Ron Francis, Mario raised one arm in the air, still in slow motion. What a visual.

He’d score two more goals, of course, and famously received a standing ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd after the fifth.

(Side note: I had just turned 13. Earlier that day, my mom gave me an English Bulldog puppy for my birthday. Her name was Sheba, and she was great. So, I was already having pretty much the greatest day ever even before having the privilege of watching this performance.)

Mario was about artistry as much as anything else. He’d do something every game that you’d never seen before. On that night, he made scoring five goals look so easy.  And inevitable. And destined.

Wednesday marks the 21-year anniversary of that performance. If you watched it, enjoy it again. If you’re young or new to the sport or young, give it a look. The game has never been played in such a way, and I assure you it will never be played like that ever again.

And yes, I’ve gotten so bored by the final few weeks of this regular season, that I wrote an 800-word blog about a game that took place 21 years ago.

But really, this is footage that never gets old.

 

-Yohe

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April 3, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Crosby and the Century Club.

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Sidney Crosby wants all the trophies.

That is the theme behind our latest info-heavy production at the Trib. In Thursday’s print edition there is a page entirely dedicated to captain Sidney Crosby’s return to the Century Club. His fifth 100-point season is second in franchise history to Mario Lemieux’s 10.

The shake-your-head part: Were it not for an ankle injury (2008), the concussion saga (2011-12) and the broken jaw from last season, Crosby might have just hit 100 points for the eighth time – certainly the seventh.

A big stick tap to Trib designer Melanie Wass for her last-minute work on this page. She’s just super, and always has been a big part of the hockey coverage – making us look better than we read, so to speak.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

Crosby100

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April 2, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: A read on Bylsma’s pauses.

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Brooks Orpik is a week removed from speaking up TO the Penguins at a team meeting.

Now he is reduced to mostly biting his tongue.

Orpik, perhaps the most candid player when speaking on the record in my eight seasons covering the Penguins, clearly is trying not to say the wrong thing about the current state of affairs.

There is no easy way to define that state.

The Penguins are not scared.

The Penguins are not worried.

The Penguins are not beaten.

The Penguins are not… anything.

That is probably the reason coach Dan Bylsma offered two long pauses to questions I asked after a 4-1 loss to lowly Carolina on Tuesday night.

What else is there to do but pause for thought with this team?

The first question:

Dan, one of your players said he wasn’t worried about the team’s up-and-down play since the Olympic break. How do you feel about it?

Bylsma waited 14 seconds, then offered this response:

“The word ‘worried’ ­– I guess when you look at the last six games and the inconsistency of our play I don’t think any player looks at that and says we’re all right with that.”

Bylsma is not a man of few words.

He is not a man to haphazardly answer questions in post-game news conferences.

He is a smart man, a man that makes habit of mixing honesty with spin in a way that provides insight even if he does not really say anything.

The 14-second pause was insightful in that he clearly wanted to make sure he provided the best possible response to that question.

A former player, he knows that all players read.

He also knows that messages can be sent without screaming.

He will never scream. I asked him about that a year ago. Screaming, even once, I suggested, might convey something needs to change.

“That’s not who I am,” Bylsma said. “If you’re waiting for me to change who I am, to become a guy that goes negative, screams and throws things – that’s never going to happen.”

Bylsma sends messages in ways that are subtler than screaming.

Like, say, saying nothing for a bit.

The second question on Tuesday night:

Dan, what needs to happen to get this team to the all-right phase?

Bylsma paused 9 seconds, then offered this response:

“I can say that that game against Columbus, the game against Chicago are indications of our team being in the right spot. This game is not. We’re going on the road for three games and two out of three isn’t an indication we’re in the right spot. It’s in our team, it’s in our group of guys, that’s how we’re going to prove it’s alright.”

The Penguins are going to the playoffs.

They are going as no worse than the No. 2 seed, barring a complete collapse that would include them losing their last six games. (Even then, they’d need help to lose the division.)

They are 8-8-2 since the Olympics.

They would love nothing more than to pause right now.

 

>> What happens when the team meeting didn’t work? A 4-1 loss to a lottery squad is what. http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5864172-74/penguins-hurricanes-crosby#axzz2xgOpmOxu

 

>> Kris Letang is up for an award that no player ever really wants. http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5864181-74/letang-penguins-masterton#axzz2xgOpmOxu

 

>> Josh Yohe is in Winnipeg and Minneapolis. I’ll be in Denver.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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March 30, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Numerical look at Pens’ injuries.

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Many months ago this Sunday looked like it could be a Stanley Cup Final preview. Penguins vs. Blackhawks – three of the last five NHL champions.

That Final still could happen, but this regular season has taxed the Penguins like none in the eight presided over by GM Ray Shero, and perhaps like none in the history of the franchise.

The Penguins are surging toward 500 man-games lost to injury. They would become only the third team in the past five seasons to hit that mark, and the only one to avoid a last-place finish.

This past week, as the injuries continued, I attempted to look at the man-games numbers and connect them to some other numbers. The result of that attempt appears as an info graphic in Sunday’s print edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Melanie Wass was the designer.

I encourage you to buy a paper to get the full feel of this piece, which begins on the front page and leads to this…

PensInjuries

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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March 27, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: What to know about Pens’ PDO.

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Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.

 

>> PENS’ STOCK MARKET

One of the greatest parts of hockey is the ebb and flow of a season and the good and bad bounces that come with it. Every time a team steps on the ice some measure of luck is involved in their success.

For instance, if a player dumps the puck into the zone and it takes a wild bounce off a rough patch of ice and past the goaltender, the opposition will end up with a “minus” in the plus/minus category; but could they really have prevented such a bizarre bounce from ending up in their own net?

Well, advanced metrics has luck covered via a statistic called PDO.

PDO is the sum of a player’s on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage. It attempts to account for the lucky bounces of the game and serves as a sort of measuring stick to gauge the ebb and flow of a player’s season. The key with PDO is to understand where a given player stands in the ups and downs of a season. It always reverts to a mean of 1000.

Trends in hockey always seem to normalize. Take Alex Steen (St. Louis) as an example. Steen started the season with the highest PDO in the NHL. He’d scored 11 goals in his first 10 games. In his last 10 games, Steen has only lit the lamp twice. His PDO has dropped, and that was predictable given how well he’d been playing to start and the positive situations he’d found himself in.

Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs with momentum is key. So with the Penguins seemingly struggling the last few games, what does PDO tell us about the Penguins stretch run?

Let’s start with defensemen Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, both of whom have found themselves in some less-than-fortunate situations this month. Orpik finds himself at a recent low of 991 and Scuderi coming in at the mean of 1000. The study of PDO tells us that these numbers might continue to drop some, but should level out and begin to increase again in the near future.

Winger Lee Stempniak is a great case study on this number. When he was traded to the Penguins on March 5, Stempniak rang in at a team low of 867 ­– a testament to the struggles the Calgary Flames this season. Over the course of the month, his PDO has increased to 952 and continues to increase. Playing with center Sidney Crosby is enough to turn any player’s situation around, but we can expect Stempniak to level off a bit as the playoffs approach.

On a big picture level, the Penguins have seen their team PDO drop significantly this month. Crosby and defenseman Matt Niskanen, both of whom held PDO numbers above 1100 throughout this season, have dropped to 1003 and 1000 respectively. In fact, the Penguins currently have several players who find themselves right at the mean of 1000 for PDO: Olli Maatta, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale, Jussi Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin, and Scuderi are all experiencing regressions to the mean of 1000.

If the history of PDO is accurate whatsoever, and we have plenty of evidence to believe it is, the Penguins slump should level off right as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. In fact, as a team, the Penguins PDO has dropped to 1004. As a club who generally operates above the league average, we might just see the Penguins heat up at exactly the right time.

– Marshall

 

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

 

 

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March 26, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Scuderi looks to send a message.

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Rob Scuderi had a certain look about him Tuesday night.

He had a similar one in Edmonton in early January.

Then, he took issue with the way the Penguins were playing, comparing it to “Harlem Globetrotter hockey.”

Now, he is taking issue with they way they are not playing,” insisting the Penguins lacked “passion.”

In each of these instances, Scuderi sought to deliver a message through the media.

As Yohe recalled, after a 4-3 overtime loss at Edmonton on Jan. 10, Scuderi stood near his stall, hands on his hips, and looked for a familiar face. That face belonged to Yohe, to whom Scuderi aired his frustration.

That story: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5368876-74/penguins-malkin-period#axzz2wzy7v0ex

Tuesday night, after the Penguins fell, 3-2, at home to Phoenix, Scuderi again stood by his stall, this time holding a mesh bag containing his soaked laundry. Again, Scuderi had a message to deliver.

This story: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5820926-74/penguins-orpik-coyotes#axzz2x28IDB69

Scuderi returned to the Penguins this summer because he believed they had a chance to again win the Stanley Cup. He still believes that.

That is why he has taken two opportunities to deliver damning words about this group.

In eight years as the primary beat reporter for the Tribune-Review, I had heard a lot of postgame comments from players – enough of them that I have made a promise rarely to pay them much attention.

I had never heard a player question his club’s collective “passion” until Tuesday night.

Post-game interviews are often emotional times, and what players say after them does not significantly contribute to the actual narrative of the club.

Scuderi was NOT emotional in Edmonton or after this loss to Phoenix. He was deliberate, and for that reason his words should be taken seriously.

He does believe the Penguins can win the Stanley Cup.

He also knows they will not win one playoff series if they do not show some life.

My working theory on the Penguins is that some of these players, ones that have won the Cup, have looked at this particular squad and assessed that the goods are not there to win it again. Basically, the former champions among this group sense this is not a title team.

That theory is gaining more credence by the day.

That is why Scuderi, a two-time Cup winner, spoke again Tuesday night.

That is why Brook Orpik, knowing this is likely his last season with the Penguins, by all accounts chastised his teammates in a closed-door meeting.

That is why Craig Adams, also a two-time Cup winner, has been publicly lamenting the Penguins’ problem spots – focus and discipline – for weeks.

That is why captain Sidney Crosby flashed a stone-cold scowl as he exited the dressing room after speaking with the media on Tuesday night. Crosby said the Penguins had not recovered from an emotional loss to St. Louis on Sunday.

The playoffs are all about recovering. Crosby knows that. So do Scuderi, Orpik and Adams.

So does coach Dan Bylsma, who said he takes “no joy from losing.”

A lot of Penguins with their names etched in silver know there are problems – potentially fatal ones – with this squad.

Passion, though, never seemed like it would be one. If it is, there is no reason to believe there is hope.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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