The mood around the Pittsburgh Penguins isn't great these days. There is the palpable sense of tension around the team that has a just terrible 10-11-5 record in their past 26 games. Pens broadcaster Phil Bourque took the team to the woodshed in an impassioned rant/plea after a 2-1 loss to Columbus last game that Sporting News' Sean Gentille transcribed. In part:
I don’t know what the comments are from the players, but you should feel like this is rock bottom. Just because of the way Marc-Andre Fleury played. Sid’s trying to fire himself up, he’s trying to fire the troops up by fighting Brandon Dubinsky, but I don’t know. In my estimation, I see too much talent and too much character on the ice and in the room for this to go on any longer than tonight.
(GM Jim Rutherford is) a guy that’s more likely to pull the trigger in the next few days than wait for March 2. On top of that, if you don’t have that fear of being traded, you might want to start having the fear of not making the playoffs. You might think you’re all nice and cozy where you are right now, but guess what: All of a sudden, when you pick up the paper tomorrow or you go online and look at pittsburghpenguins.com or NHL.com, the Penguins are going to be in the wild-card position. They’re No. 7 right now
Then, today the Trib's Jason Mackey also reported that team management is directly thinking about making major changes due to the struggles of late:
Marc-Andre Fleury has worn a Penguins sweater longer than any other player currently in the team's dressing room, Sidney Crosby included.
He has seen the NHL cellar. He has raised the Stanley Cup. He has seen teams assembled, disassembled and stripped for parts.
Which is why Fleury understands the Penguins' predicament probably better than any of his teammates. If they keep this up — the inconsistency, the lackluster performances — management might have no choice but to blow up this team before the March 2 trade deadline.
Granted, there's only so much they can or should do. Almost every important player on the Penguins has at least a partial no-trade clause, and some have full no movement clauses. The core of this team pretty clearly isn't going to get "blown up" during this season, unless some key player has a major change of heart and would be willing to ship out of town...From all accounts that isn't happening.
That said, for the course the team takes, it's pretty clear their performance this weekend at St. Louis Blues tonight and home against the upstart Florida Panthers tomorrow will go a long way in deciding what management feels they need to do in terms of future trades for to get setup for the playoffs.
So I found it interesting that so many of the best players decided not to skate this morning at the Pens' optional practice:
Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Letang, Martin and Hornqvist among those not skating this morning.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) February 21, 2015
Those six players- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Patric Hornqvist are the six highest paid skaters on the team, aside from Marc-Andre Fleury (who did participate but won't play tonight, as the team is seemingly electing to play him tomorrow at home in Pittsburgh against Florida). The two other highest paid players (Pascal Dupuis and Christian Ehrhoff) are injured and won't play tonight.
Of course, if those healthy skaters come out like gangbusters, have great games and lead the Penguins to a win and no one ever mentions this again. As it is, they play the most minutes, block the most shots, take the most abuse and generally need to manage themselves at the beginning of 2 games in 2 days. Some, like Crosby, are rumored to be banged up a little, though coach Mike Johnston assured the media just today the Crosby is ok.
But if they don't play well, after all the fuss that's been made....Look out. It will be just another sign that this team doesn't seem to be united or on the right track and that management may need to make some sort of move to salvage the team's chances in the playoffs.