The Blame Game


Does Dan Bylsma deserve some blame for the Pens first-round exit? (AP photo)

Whenever a team loses prematurely in the postseason, there’s always some blame to go around. That’s the case with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who finished the regular season strong only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs.

It’s easy to blame injuries. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens two superstars, did not play against Tampa Bay. But they also weren’t in the lineup when the Pens ended the year on an 8-2 run. Even without Sid & Geno, the Pens were good enough to beat Tampa Bay. While we’re here, another casualty that really flew under the radar was Dustin Jeffrey. The Pens certainly could have used Jeffrey on the “top” line. He couldn’t have possibly been less productive than Mark Letestu.

It’s easy to blame the power play, which sucked to a degree that I can’t accurately put into words. It went 0-5 in Game 7 and 1-35 overall. We knew this could be a big problem before the series started, and it most certainly was.

It’s easy to blame Marc-Andre Fleury. Sure, he had a couple of bad games (5 & 6), but he also shut Tampa out in Game 1 and played great in Games 3 & 4. He deserved better in Game 7, where he made at least two huge saves to keep the Pens in the game.

But instead of taking the easy way out, let’s pass blame on to those who really deserve it.

Let us blame the coaching staff, which admittedly did an incredible job throughout the 82-game regular season. However, they could not find a way to fix a clearly broken power play. Dan Bylsma, Tony Granato and Todd Rierden failed when it mattered most – in the playoffs. They couldn’t implement a system or find a combination of lines that could win a seven-game series. More importantly, they couldn’t find a way to win one more game when their team had a commanding 3-1 advantage. Their best line in the series – as hard as it is to believe – was Rupp-Adams-Asham, yet they all played under 8:30 in Game 7. Eric Tangradi was effective in the lone game he played (a win, by the way), and he was on the ice screening Dwayne Roloson when the team scored its lone PP goal of the series. But he didn’t play another game, scratched in favor of Chris Conner, a guy who couldn’t even get a shot on goal…on a penalty shot. Deryk Engelland was good enough to play 63 games during the regular season but never dressed in the playoffs. The Ben Lovejoy-Matt Niskanen pairing didn’t exactly inspire confidence when on the ice.

Let us blame Alex Kovalev and James Neal, the team’s two prized deadline acquisitions, who were pretty much invisible in the series. Yes, Neal scored the game-winning OT goal in Game 4, but that was it. Yes, Kovalev scored in Game 1, but his overall contributions were more about turning the puck over and taking minor penalties (five in 7 games). The Pens got these guys to help them win a series or two. Neither did much of anything to help the cause.

Let us blame Matt Cooke, who got himself suspended for this series because of another senseless cheap shot. Say what you will about Cooke, but the Pens needed him against Tampa Bay. They needed his energy, they needed his forecheck, and they needed him on the PK.

Sure, there’s plenty of blame to go around – some accurate, some misplaced. But credit must be given to Tampa Bay, who battled back from a big hole and found a way to win three straight games, including two on the road. Remember, these teams split the season series and had the same number of losses in the regular season. Tampa has a couple of legit stars and some good role player. Their coaching staff did a great job. And then there’s Roloson, who was spectacular in Games 5-7. His play, coupled with a struggling Pittsburgh offense/PP, was the key to the series.