Mar 1, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) scores a goal past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period in a Stadium Series hockey game at Soldier Field. Chicago won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

An Outdoor Game Doesn't Define the Penguins


Despite a marvelous snowstorm spectacle, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned in a smelly effort last night at Soldier Field.

Embarrassingly losing 5-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh certainly laid an egg, and hardly executed anything properly.

However, a wintery outdoor contest doesn’t define them. Why? Oh, I don’t know, because they won’t play in inclement weather for the rest of the season.

Now, I’m not stating the conditions had a direct correlation to their putrid performance, I just want Pens’ nation not to fret after witnessing said outing. Pittsburgh’s recent history of playing in game following a significant layoff suggest it’s common.

There’s no excuses for how they operated, and I’m not giving them any, however, there’s a handful of outside reasons as to why they aren’t playing to their standards right now.

Number one, the Olympics seem to have disrupted their rhythm. Of course, their current three-game losing streak dates back to before the break when they lost to the New York Rangers in a shootout, but they weren’t performing nearly as-bad-as they are now. Perhaps the long flights and emotions stemming from their respective Olympic outcomes may be attributing to their game.

Before you completely disagree with what I just said, due to the fact that a plethora of Chicago’s players are arguably experiencing the same symptoms, the Blackhawks had 70,000-some-odd fans supporting them, so, to say they weren’t driven to absolutely annihilate Pittsburgh would be an understatement.

Number two, injuries are complicating Pittsburgh’s matters. Forwards Taylor Pyatt and Joe Vitale, who have each missed significant time, specifically Vitale, were reinserted just this past Thursday, so, it’s going to take some time to get back into the swing of things. I think playing in an avalanche is kind of hard to regain their consistency and form.

The Pens are also without two of their top-tier defensemen: Kris Letang and Paul Martin. Criticize Letang’s turnover-happy season all you want, but he hasn’t been active in the last three games, where the team’s surrendered 14 goals. That statistic bodes more to Martin’s absence, given he’s a great defensive blueliner, and has smart puck management instincts – something Pittsburgh failed miserably at last night.

Pittsburgh has dealt with ailments left-and-right all season long, but it might really be affecting them now.

And number three, as I referenced earlier, the Pens’ level of play following a long break always seems to be well below sub-par. Whatever causes them to fall flat on their faces – as they’ve done over the past two games – at the conclusion of a lengthy rest, it’s happened far to often over recent seasons.

Perfect example would be last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Disposing the Ottawa Senators in the blink-of-an-eye in the second-round, Pittsburgh gave themselves almost two weeks off before they faced the Boston Bruins in the third-round. Rattling off 22 goals over six games with Ottawa, Pittsburgh’s offense went awol against Boston, burying just two tallies in four contests.

It’s March people. The beginning of March – it’s a long month. Pittsburgh is going to have plenty of time to make adjustments.

Although the Pens have played terrible in the last few days, I actually like their schedule moving forward.

For one, it’s tough. They have 22 tilts left, and 11 of them are versus Western Conference opponents. Three games will come against the Philadelphia Flyers – which are always grueling matchups – and four are between the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals, who are currently battling for that eighth-spot.

Let me just put it this way, Pittsburgh has no room for error. However, I prefer the schedule to be rigorous. What better way to prepare for the postseason?

If you’re going to evaluate the Pens, do it over the next month, not the past two games, because as it stands, they’re still tops in the Eastern Conference.

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