This must be what it feels like to be an Anaheim fan. O' the horror. All right, so they have to endure a name 'repurposed' from an Emilio Estevez film, not to mention those putrid colors which better suit a girls' lacrosse team. But those poor Duck fans have to suffer a playoff-less spring almost every year. As if living in Anaheim wasn't punishment enough.
Unfortunately, this profound sense of hockey impotence is what you get when your team can't find the Stanley Cup playoffs without a TV Guide. Let's just hope that General Manager Craig Patrick and the rest of the Penguin organization remember this misery as they retool the team for the coming season. The last thing Penguin fans need is to find a way to abide this torment on an annual basis. Once a decade is more than enough.
Nevertheless, while the NHL mercifully grinds its way toward the end of its second season, there are a few things to think about here, including how the Penguins fit into the grand scheme of it all.
First, is it really "good for the game"?
Deep into the second period of the Western Conference Final's fifth game, ESPN's Bill Clement took his trademark fawning to new heights. Clement, who apparently lost his grasp on insight years ago, remarked that the game in front of him was not only great, but "good for the game." What seemingly escaped Clement's field of vision was that the Colorado Avalanche were, again, trying to sit on a 1-0 for near the entirety of the hockey game. Of course, Bill was a Flyer during the goon years so whether he thought he was instead watching the World Cup playoffs is still open to debate.
Yes, it was great to have the accepted two best teams in hockey playing in the Conference Finals, but is it really great for the game when two teams with some of the best offensive talentperhaps in the history of the sportask their players to put on a muzzle in an effort to grind out a one-goal game?
With Hull, Sakic, Forseberg, Yzerman, and Shanahan on the ice (just to name a few), a first period goal should up the ante; it should motivate these superstars to greater goal-scoring heights, it shouldn't suggest they pack it in for the night. Peter Forsberg averaged well over a point a game in the playoffs (27 points through 20 games), why play scared when you have such talent available? It's not as if either the Red Wings or Avalanche featured anything less than a future Hall of Famer in net. If you don't trust Hasek and Roy between the pipes, who will you trust?
Sadly, this shouldn't be such a surprise. Scoring is down league-wide and a quick look at the Stanley Cup Finals for the last four years reveals something which only a goalie could love. In a combined twenty-three games, the Stanley Cup combatants have totaled more than five goals a game a meager three times. Contrast that with the Penguins' first title in 1991 where they and the Minnesota North Stars tallied less than five goals only once in their seven games, averaging over six goals per game for the entire series. A year earlier, the victorious Edmonton Oilers outscored the Boston Bruins 20-8 in five games, winning by an average of more than three goals in each of their four wins.
In the three years from 1990 to 1992, the Stanley Cup saw seven games with eight or more goals while in the four years spanning 1998 to 2001 only two games made it higher than six.
Say the goaltending is better if you wish, but the safer bet is probably to agree with Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach Paul Maurice who, when asked during the playoffs about his coaching responded, "I won't be known for my offense."
Second, Darius, we hardly knew you.
It was tough not to root for Darius Kasparaitis in these playoffs, especially after he gave so much to the Penguins during his stay in Pittsburgh, but at times it was almost tougher to recognize him. Perhaps the credit should go to Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy who reportedly had a spirited discussion with Kasparaitis after his arrival from the Three Rivers area. According to the story, the directive was something to the effect of, 'we don't do that here.' Whatever it was, it seemed to have worked.
Not only did Kasparaitis actually look (gasp) fundamentally sound, he made smart plays with the puck, wasn't caught out of position, and going into Colorado's Game Seven debacle, he led all playoff teams in both hits and plus/minus ratio. Yes, seriously.
Whether that was coaching, teamwork, or what, the fact remains the same. When it comes to discipline, the Penguins have long preferred the limp wrist to the iron fist. As long they continue to languish at this end of the spectrum, they will continue to see Pittsburgh players excel in the playoffs, only they'll be former Penguins when they do it.
Going further, watching Darius Kasparaitis' rapid transformation along the blueline makes one worry, if only a bit, about the Penguins' ability to produce an intimidating blueline without a franchise-wide change in attitude. Years in Pittsburgh failed to produce what Colorado accomplished in about a month. That's not good.
Should such a lack of defensive development permeate the organization, perhaps the wisest move the Penguins could make in the draft is to take Quebec's highly touted Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Yes, he's small, but if he's the kind of scorer who can get people into the building and keep them on their feet, maybe the Penguins need him in Pittsburgh more than they need another crop of defensive prospects.
Such thinking not only plays into the Penguins' future, but that of the league as well. If the NHL is ever going to return to a time when goal scoring and offense carry the day, they will need the St. Louis Rams of hockey to do it. Since the Penguins have proven that they are unable to join the defense-first crowd, maybe they shouldn't try. Maybe they should supplement the speed they already have (Straka, Petersen, etc.) with some fast ice and a new batch of younger, faster players.
It's tough to get better offensive teachers than Lemieux and Kovalev when it comes to goal scoring and taking over games. Why not draw on this knowledge? The Penguins were once the greatest offensive team on ice, if that is still their nature, why deny it?
And when, Virginia, will the playoffs finally end so the Penguins can do something with this off-season already?
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and his medication tells him that no Penguin news in the summer is good Penguin news, especially as it relates to issues such as Robert Lang and a new arena. In situations like these no news is always good news. Right?