The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

June 8, 2013

Penguins face difficult questions

PITTSBURGH — Ray Shero left little doubt at the trade deadline, with the Pittsburgh Penguins general manager telling anyone who would listen his team was “all in” for the Stanley Cup after giving stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin accomplished sidekicks in Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow.

The roster built to bookend the championship the franchise won in 2009 instead went bust against Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.

Four games. Four losses. Two measly goals over nearly 14 periods by the NHL’s highest scoring team. Exactly zero seconds when they held a lead. Instead of a ticker tape parade, the Penguins face a summer filled with question marks and soul searching.

“You feel like with the expectations that we have on ourselves, that the team has for this group, no question you’re going to look at this as a missed opportunity,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

One that could lead to significant changes on the ice and on the bench.

Bylsma insisted before Game 4 that he didn’t feel as though he was coaching for his job. But the sweep by the Bruins – the first time Pittsburgh had gone out so meekly in 34 years – leaves him just 3-4 in postseason series since leading Pittsburgh to the Cup four months after he inherited the job.

Each of the previous three springs, there were reasonable excuses. A mild Cup hangover in 2010. Injuries to Malkin and Crosby in ’11. A wild and emotional first-round loss to Philadelphia last spring that played like an anomaly.

Not this time. The Penguins posted the Eastern Conference’s best record during a lockout-shortened season and went 8-3 during the opening two rounds against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators.

They averaged 4.27 goals – the highest mark midway through a postseason in more than 20 years. And they received solid play in net from journeyman Tomas Vokoun, who went 6-1 in his first seven starts after replacing Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 of the Islanders series.

Crosby, Malkin, Iginla and defenseman Kris Letang were among the playoff scoring leaders. They were heavily favored to beat the Bruins, who needed a miracle to escape a first-round upset by Toronto.

It never happened. Not even close.

Boston’s defense took away the swaths of open ice that allowed Crosby and Malkin to operate. Goaltender Tuukka Rask took away the rest.

Pittsburgh’s lowest goal total over a four-game stretch during the regular season was nine.

They didn’t even manage a quarter of that versus the Bruins. Malkin and Crosby didn’t collect a point. Letang was an ugly minus-7 and Vokoun briefly imploded in Game 2.

Two more defeats – though closely contested – awaited in Boston. The season and the series fittingly ending with Rask stuffing Malkin one final time.

“We scored four goals in two games. It’s not enough,” Malkin said. “It’s my mistakes that I scored zero goals. It’s not good for me.”

He was hardly alone. From Pittsburgh’s first shot of the series – one from Crosby that clanged off the post – the Penguins couldn’t deliver when it mattered.

“The timing in those big moments we need to come up with big plays, and we didn’t,” Crosby said.

The fallout could be significant. Malkin and Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist, will enter the final year of their contracts in July, and glue-guy Pascal Dupuis is a free agent.

It is a given the Penguins will do what it takes to retain Malkin. But Letang’s sloppy play against the Bruins combined with the high price he’ll likely command and the shrinking salary cap make his future in Pittsburgh murky. Dupuis played so well in the shortened season (38 points in 48 games) he may have played himself into a new tax bracket.

Even cloudier is Fleury’s status. The former No. 1 overall pick, who helped lift the Penguins to consecutive appearances in the Cup finals in 2008 and ’09, has now been knocked around in successive springs.

His only appearance over the final two rounds came in two-plus so-so periods in relief of Vokoun in Game 2. When Bylsma had an opening to put Fleury back in the lineup for Game 3, the coach instead opted for the 36-year-old Vokoun.

Fleury is making over $5 million a season. Vokoun makes

$3 million less but turns 37 in three weeks.

The Penguins were willing to ship away prospects and draft picks to rent Iginla, Morrow and defenseman Douglas Murray for a few months. All three will become free agents without the Cup they came to Pittsburgh to snare.

Iginla spurned the Bruins for the Penguins at the trade deadline, only to see Boston block the future Hall of Famer’s shot at winning his first championship.

While he was productive – collecting 12 points in the first 11 games of the playoffs – he also spent most of his time in Pittsburgh playing out of position at left wing.

It’s a role Iginla was willing to take for the sake of a title. Now he hits the open market wondering when his next opportunity will come.

The guys he briefly called teammates will spend the summer wondering the same.

“Obviously we’re a very good team,” Iginla said. “We went cold at the wrong time.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local Sports
  • Penguins 0421 Penguins finish hot to grab 2-1 series lead

    Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen scored in a span of 2:13 of the third period to revive the Penguins from yet another two-goal deficit in a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0421 Pirates walk off against Reds to halt home skid

    Ike Davis became the first player to hit grand slams for different teams in the same April, and Neil Walker had a winning run single with two outs in the ninth inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates twice overcame deficits to beat the Reds 6-5 Monday night.
    Pittsburgh trailed 2-0 before Davis’ fourth-inning homer off Mike Leake.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sitting Bulls bring home national sled hockey title

    The Johnstown Sitting Bulls disabled sled hockey team recently won a national championship.
    The team, comprised of disabled athletes from Cambria, Somerset, Indiana, Bedford and Blair counties, finished first in the Youth B Division at the USA Hockey National Disabled Hockey Festival held April 11-13 in Marlborough, Mass.

    April 21, 2014

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 21, 2014

  • Pirates Brawl 0420 Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup

    Ryan Braun homered in the ninth inning to tie it, then Khris Davis hit a home run in the 14th that put Milwaukee ahead for good.
    Yet those were hardly the big blows that attracted all the attention Sunday in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Football team ends boycott of embattled coach

    Minnesota State University-Mankato’s football team has ended its boycott of reinstated head coach Todd Hoffner, who successfully fought child pornography charges and other misconduct accusations that removed him from the job for 20 months.
    Hoffner said he assured the players, who refused to take the practice field Wednesday, that interim coach Aaron Keen, who led the team in Hoffner’s absence, will continue in a major role with the team.

    April 20, 2014

  • Penguins 0420a Game 3 pivotal for both teams

    Not so long ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were the worst team in the NHL.
    Now they’re heading home for tonight’s Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins, hoping to make even more history.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0419 Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT

    Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
    Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0419 Brewers rally to clip Pirates

    Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
    Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon

    The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897.  Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.

    April 19, 2014