I don't like to speculate too much or draw ridiculous conclusions, but I'm starting to get really irritated when the Pens look like they make it harder than it should be to beat basement dwellers. Hence, a little rant of sorts.
As reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins are the center of attention for a lot of hockey conversations. If a team finds themselves in the midst of a rebuilding phase, talks of Pittsburgh's recent history stands out as a success story (see also: Chicago). When a team drafts a big-time player in a struggling market, Pittsburgh's recent history stands as evidence to the success of such a game plan (see also: New York Islanders).
But with that same breath, any time a "bad team" beats a "good team" like Pittsburgh, they didn't just beat the Penguins, they beat the "reigning Stanley Cup champs." Come to think of it, you'll see this even when a team with a better record beats Pittsburgh. This is the price they pay for success, although I'm sure not a single guy in that locker room would have it any other way.
On Tuesday night, a "bad team" beat a "good team." This isn't necessarily a dig toward Carolina, but instead just the realization of what each team's record indicated prior to the puck drop. Carolina, at 6-17-5, seemed no match (on paper) to Pittsburgh's 20-9-1. We all wanted to believe it. Some of us had our doubts and concerns, but there was still a degree of confidence. A hint of, dare I say, cockiness? Can't say what the Pens were thinking, but the end result was not a positive one as the Pens fell short of a comeback and lost 3-2. The fact they even had to make a comeback is kinda the point I'm trying to make here.
As we all know, this isn't the first time Pittsburgh has lost to a team that, as indicated by overall record (I'll keep stressing this), qualifies as a bad team. Take the jump as we look back on a few other games up to this point that have not exactly ended the way we expected.
October 7, 3-0 loss to Phoenix
At the time we all laughed, shrugged, joked that Phoenix was coming to town. A few called it a trap game, indicating that Pittsburgh might have the night spoiled by last year's dismal Phoenix club. But Phoenix's current spot in the West (6th) and the 3-0 win proved to everyone that this year's team isn't last year's team. I suspect the so-called playing down was a factor here. The Pens rebounded the following night with a 5-4 win over the Flyers.
October 31, 2-1 loss to Minnesota
Minnesota, currently ranked 14th in the West, also hit Pittsburgh with a loss on Halloween night. Nicklas Backstrom made 34 saves on 35 shots. Sounds more like an example of one team unable to crack another team's netminder.
November 27, 3-2 loss to New York Islanders
Just one of those games where you say the Pens showed up to play only 40 minutes of hockey. Pittsburgh headed into the third period up 2-1, before losing 3-2 in regulation.
The season is still young and as we all know injuries have done a job on this team. The one benefit we can take from this is that, come playoff time, the Penguins won't have bad teams to play down to. Or at least, "bad" as defined by teams that didn't make the playoffs. But I still can't help but feel as if the Pens are letting two points slip away every time they play a team that they should beat.
As I said Tuesday night in Hooks' post-game story, this isn't about Pittsburgh going out there and toying with their opponents. I want to see 60 minutes of nonstop, run-the-score-up, drive-to-the-net-and-make-something-happen hockey. Or better put, as Kris Letang said yesterday, " I think we just made it too complicated [Tuesday]. We tried making too many fancy plays. Sometimes, that just doesn't work."
So help me out here - are other teams playing up against the Pens, or are the Pens playing down to other teams?