Five worries and questions the Penguins still have

Justin K. Aller

A look at Justin Bourne from The Score, who has legitimate questions about where the Pens go from here. Bylsma won his Jack Adams in 2011 for “coachin’ ‘em up” when the Pens did NOT have a lot of talent in the lineup thanks to injuries….Now two years later we’ll see what kind of job he can do with almost an overload of talent.

No matter how excited and happy Penguins fans are right now (and we definitely have the right to be), they don’t hand up the Stanley Cup in March….Or even April.

I don’t need to say it, because everyone knows it, but there’s a LOT of hard work to over-come, and it’s not going to be easy and nothing is guaranteed. As some have pointed out, the 1993 Pens were a juggernaut that fell flat, where-as Penguin teams in 1991 and 2009 were far-from Cup contenders at one point and ended up finding the magic. In hockey, luck and injuries and even a hot goalie (Jaroslav Halak, anyone?) can re-shape even the best laid of plans.

The Score’s Justin Bourne, a great columnist, looked for a few concerns that Pittsburgh faces now that they’ve loaded up. We’ll go through them:

They got older

Over the past week, the Penguins have added 34-year-old Brendan Morrow, 33-year-old Douglas Murray, and 35-year-old Jarome Iginla.

As you’re well aware, playoffs are a grind. As the series wear on, you’ll often hear about teams holding “optional” skates, meaning “hey old guys, stay off the ice and let your bodies rest while the rest of the team shakes out their legs this morning.” The Penguins are likely trimming young energy from their roster to make room for these guys, so their morning skates are going look like a ghost town plus, I dunno, Dustin Jeffrey.

Older players are more prone to injuries, more prone to wearing down, and that could be a bad thing if the Penguins go deep in a number of series.

It’s hard to disagree with that, it’s largely true. But take a look at the situations- Murray is going to replace or supplement a guy like 35 year old Mark Eaton (and keep a 30 year old Deryk Engelland off the ice). That’s not a chief concern. Brenden Morrow may be 34, Iginla is 35, but the Pens have had a rotating cast of second-line wingers all season long. We’ll gladly take the stability (and skill) that veterans with hundreds of career games (and career goals) can bring to the table. Yes the Penguins are older, but the core of the team is still Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury and all in their mid-20s.

They got slower

This is somewhat related to the above point, but the reality of adding more proven talent is that you shuffle out the Not Ready Yets like Beau Bennett who fly around at mach six at all times. You sacrifice some team speed for reliability, getting rid of a race car for an SUV. Now, SUV’s are great, but as a hockey team, faster is generally better. It’s possible that defenses will find it easier to contain a Pittsburgh Penguins team with Iginla, Morrow and Murray than they would with younger, faster players swirling around while they try to deal with Crosby and Malkin. I think we can all agree their three acquisitions are not the most fleet of foot.

This is hard to dispute too. Murray is a tank out there and Morrow is not fleet of foot (and he falls a lot). I’m not going to deny these moves have probably made the Pens a step slower- but the upside is there isn’t a TON of free-wheeling space out there in the playoffs. Games tighten defensively and teams have to fight for every inch. Are the Pens better served having Morrow or Bennett out there when they need to fight for that precious space?

There’s not enough puck to go around

Currently, things are going swimingly for the Penguins. They have the longest current winning streak in pro sports thanks to the Miami Heat’s loss last night, and they have a couple of “good”-level players playing GREAT. Chris Kunitz is third in the NHL in scoring, one point behind Steven Stamkos for second in the league. CHRIS KUNITZ. 43 points in 34 games.

Pascal Dupuis has 15 goals already. That’s good for 11th in the league, tied with Sidney Crosby. Brandon Sutter has nine goals. James Neal has the fifth most in the league with 17. Evgeni Malkin exists. Now you’re going to stir in Brendan Morrow (who scored 30 two years ago, not that he’s still that guy) and Jarome Iginla, who has 11-straight seasons of 30+ goals on his resume.

Not everyone will be happy, because there’s just not enough puck to go around. Sorry Kunitz and Dupuis. Somebody is bound to be underutilized, somebody is bound to be unhappy, and it’s possible some frustration could creep in for Pens forwards.

This is going to make Dan Bylsma’s job very interesting. Just look at a PP unit- does he dare split Crosby and Malkin? And if so, which one isn’t going to play the first minute? And how in the hell are you going to enforce that change? There’s a lot of real questions here.

Just take Chris Kunitz- he was the third option on the Malkin/Neal line last season, and while it was very successful, he’s been getting a lot more time with the puck playing with Crosby/Dupuis. I’m not saying Kunitz (or any other player) wouldn’t accept their role, because they are all very professional players that understand it’s their job to do what’s asked. But how to decide what to ask and split up the responsibilities to keep the team in a groove will be a very fascinating thing for Bylsma.

Bylsma won his Jack Adams in 2011 for “coachin’ ‘em up” when the Pens did NOT have a lot of talent in the lineup thanks to injuries….Now two years later we’ll see what kind of job he can do with almost an overload of talent.

Too many (leaders) and not enough (people doing the grunt work)

Sidney Crosby is the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Interestingly, Brendan Morrow was the captain of the Dallas Stars. Interestingly, Jarome Iginla was the captain of the Calgary Flames. Then they have a coach, and assistant coaches, and on and on and on. While everyone is saying the right things right now, a great Mike Tyson quote comes to mind: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

If the Pens lose a couple games in the playoffs, and they find themselves in a hole, how does that play out for this team? What if Crosby isn’t producing (maybe he’s being double-Tikkanen’d, whatever), and the other leaders start to nose in on “his” team. What if they have philosophical differences?

By all accounts, all of these men are good, reasonable dudes, but they’ve also been used to being The Guy for awhile now. We’ll see how things gel when they’re asked to be just A Guy.

This could be just my opinion, but I’m not too worried about this. The “backbone” players on the Penguins who aren’t stars but pivotal players, guys like Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Paul Martin have all been through this before. Most have Stanley Cup rings as it is. They’ve seen late season deadline adds like fiery, scary leaders (Gary Roberts) and also the cool, mouthy older-brother type leader (Bill Guerin) come into the room. It’s worked in both cases.

Iginla seems like a great dude, and from what Dallas fans have told of us of Morrow, he does his leading from example, on the ice. Doesn’t seem like the bigger personalities (Roberts, Guerin) that have come in from the past. No one will ever know how this team gels until they get in the thick of things (and face a little adversity) but just from the outside looking in, I see a confident, quiet, focused group of professional guys.

Which sounds a lot like the personality that Sidney Crosby is adopting.

Too much pressure

This reminds me of two things: 1) when the Miami Heat first came together and everyone (Okay, LeBron, but you get the point) was like “Oh snap, give them not five, not six, not seven titles…” and then they lost the first year. They immediately had a rifle scope on their backs, and all teams did was game plan ways to beat them, which Dallas eventually did. The Heat were more than fine once they settled in, but the Penguins don’t have the time for that – Iginla and Morrow and Murray are currently all “rentals” – so it’s now or never for them. There’s no adjustment period allowed.

This is a fear, but let’s be real- the Pittsburgh Penguins will go into the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs as losers of their last three playoff series. With or without the moves they’ve made, they probably will have a high seed (as result of a strong regular season) and by having Crosby and Malkin, they already have a target on their backs. In short, a lot is expected and there’s pressure every year.

So why not load up, and make the team the best it possibly can be? Shero sacrificed a first and second round pick, plus a top prospect to bring in 3 players with the short-term goal of helping the Penguins win the Cup. The team is stronger now for it. Depth is improved, skill is improved, and size/strength/toughness is up. The pressure would always be there for a team that wants to win the Cup, since only one gets to. Why not also just add the weapons to give the best chance possible?

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