Pittsburgh Penguins Blame Game Begins as They Face Elimination


The Pittsburgh Penguins are likely headed for another disappointing early-round playoff exit after falling behind 3-1 to the New York Rangers in round 1. There will be a lot of story lines in the coming weeks and months when the offseason officially starts, but I ask this question of Pens fans…

How much blame can be placed on any individual Manager, Coach, or Player?

The funny thing about professional sports is that when a team struggles, everyone seems to zoom in on a specific target as the sole reason. Whether it’s blaming Management, Coaches, or specific Players, it’s rarely viewed as an all-around organizational issue.

However, the situation that the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in is exactly that. It’s an organizational issue that spans from top to bottom.

If you read my work you’ll know that I’m very critical of some players, and I’ve also questioned whether Mike Johnston is the right guy for this team. But, that doesn’t mean that the individual in question is the only reason for this team’s shortcomings. I’ll give you a great example of this.

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I published an article found here, regarding the performance of Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy has floundered since joining the Pittsburgh Penguins at this year’s trade deadline. Last night’s OT loss to the Rangers was no exception, as he was the biggest reason for Kevin Hayes having the ability to score the game-winning goal.

Dejan Kovacevic of dkonpittsburghsports.com wrote a great column found here, which outlines the play and discusses why Lovejoy made the decision that he did when chasing Martin St. Louis behind the net. He cited that Mike Johnston’s system dictates that the defenseman’s responsibility is to ensure the puck carrier doesn’t emerge from the other side of the cage.

But, Ben Lovejoy is an NHL veteran defenseman. That’s why Jim Rutherford gave up former first-round pick Simon Despres to acquire him, right?

Therefore, Lovejoy should be able to read that play and understand that St. Louis had no support behind the net. Instead of taking an angle that would cut off Marty’s lane behind the cage, he needed to take the body, play aggressive on the small forward, and not allow him to have an open lane to the front of the net.

He did exactly opposite.

This is where the blame game begins. Does this breakdown mean that Ben Lovejoy is the reason the Pittsburgh Penguins lost? Absolutely, not.

Also, considering that this team was built with a completely different defensive corps in mind, is it Jim Rutherford’s fault? What about the fact that Lovejoy was in a position in which a system dictated he eliminates the incorrect lane? I get it; it’s Mike Johnston’s fault, right?

The truth is, everything combined is why the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to have an early tee time this spring. It’s a combination of injuries, poor personnel decisions, poor player usage, and poor performance.

I’ll visit all of these topics over this offseason. And, of course, there’s a chance the Pittsburgh Penguins can prove all of us wrong and win this series in seven games. But, for the moment, let’s look at the big picture and understand that the New York Rangers are simply a better team right now.

The Pens will be great again. And, contrary to popular belief, it won’t take blowing up the organization to get there. It will take proper analysis of this summer’s free agency market, a buyout or two, and a few players getting healthy.

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