By John Toperzer
Maybe I’m blowing a third-period episode from Tuesday’s Penguins game out of proportion. After all, the Pens will make the playoffs, they’ll make no worse than the No. 2 seed. The length of 2013-14 is nearly twice as long as the work-stoppaged, 48-game slate from the spring of 2013. It’s understandable that the team will have letdowns throughout the course of a six-month, regular-season schedule, right?
It seems like that’s exactly the way the Pittsburgh Penguins are approaching the most critical stretch of their season.
Whether it’s failure to adhere to coaching or simply tuning it out, who knows?
Head coach Dan Bylsma is taking longer to respond to questions from the media than his defensive corps sometimes takes to clear the puck from its own end – and that can be a long, long time.
The players are responsible for producing on the ice. They looked disinterested Tuesday against Carolina.
As the saying goes, “you can’t fire the whole team” when it struggles, but something can be done about the staff in charge. It’s probable too late in the season for anyone other than Lou Lamoriello to can the head coach. Those thinking Bylsma’s job is at risk are probably off-base – at least until the Pens’ postseason run ends.
What I really found interesting Tuesday was how no one on the Penguins bench stood up for Sidney Crosby when Manny Malhotra felled Crosby with a well-placed stick to the Pittsburgh captain’s privates.
Crosby keeled over like the Tower of Pisa after taking the stick to his own, personal cup with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
After the game, he refused to mention the particulars of the incident, instead saying something along the lines that that’s just hockey.
As if that wasn’t enough, the ‘Canes Jay Harrison elbowed Crosby along the offensive end boards, most likely without fear of retribution from anyone dressing in Black & Gold. Harrison forgot the one player who might take offense, of course, and that was Crosby himself.
The NHL’s leading scorer choke-grabbed Harrison, lifted him off his skates and threw him to the ground.
If you guessed Crosby was frustrated by that point, you’d be spot on.
It’s hard to say whether any of his teammates cared or were slightly interested, however.
The Flyers’ mentality of an eye-for-an-eye isn’t Pittsburgh’s way (unless its playing Philly, and the Pens take emotional penalties). But not having any kind of response for the torture its team captain was taking in the waning seconds of a 4-1 loss is unacceptable.
The Pens didn’t have to “send a message” despite the lopsided score. The team should have stuck up for its best player, however.
Admittedly, enforcers are the dinosaurs of the NHL. When your best player’s manhood is challenged, physically and physiologically, there’s just got to be some kind of response.
Military personnel don’t leave fallen soldiers behind. Cops stick together, firemen, too.
That type of camaraderie lends itself to sports, but the Penguins showed nothing of the kind Tuesday. It looked like they were all about collecting a check after the first 10 minutes of the game.
If a team ever needed a gut check, it’s the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins.