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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Winning The War

October 21, 2003

Being that he dates back to somewhere near the fourth century B.C., it's tough to imagine that Sun Tzu ever had much interest in hockey, let alone Penguins hockey. Hey, nobody's perfect. However, what Sun Tzu did have was a keen eye for military strategy, one that led him to pen perhaps the most famous text on the subject of all time.

His treatise, The Art of War, contains much in the way of sage advice for cunning strategists in all walks of life, including this: "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

Not only has this mantra withstood centuries of warfare, its underpinning idea transcends mere combat. In fact, it was tough not to think about this very phrase when the Pittsburgh Penguins notched their first win of the season more than two weeks ago.

Yes, the Penguins mounted an impressive a comeback at home Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Yes, they won the game, and, yes, the NHL does list this tally as the Penguins' first official victory this year.

But the standings are wrong.

In the grand scheme of what the Penguins must regard as victory, the results from Saturday night are inconsequential. That's because the Penguins' first victory of the season actually occurred weeks ago, back on October 6th—days before the Penguins took the ice for the first time this season. That was the day General Manager Craig Patrick swallowed hard and inked rookie goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the contract that would put Fleury in a Penguins' sweater for opening night and beyond.

Patrick said he wasn't proud of himself for the deal, but he should be. Why? Because how much the team pays Fleury this year is also of little consequence.

What matters to the team is that midway through the first period of the first Penguins game this year, the Igloo faithful were chanting Fleury's name. What matters is that, at least for now, Craig Patrick and Mario Lemieux have given Penguin fans a reason to show up and a reason to believe.

On opening night, the Penguins should have been booed off the ice. The effort was poor, the execution was deplorable, and the results were depressing. Yet, at the end of the game, the fans stood and they cheered as not one of those negatives applied to Marc-Andre Fleury.

After letting in a goal on the first shot he faced, Fleury's subsequent effort and execution bordered on spectacular. That is all anybody will remember about that night and that is something the Penguins cannot put a price on.

Perhaps it was a telling admission by Mario Lemieux, of his own limitations, of his on-ice intentions, of his business savvy, or maybe of all three. But whatever it was that made Mario press Patrick into opening up the purse strings for Fleury—that was the first serious step this team has taken toward becoming a success in years.

It isn't that Mario lacing them up again isn't a step in the right direction or cause for celebration, it is. His determination, his love for the game, and his love for the city should be respected and commended. Unfortunately, he's doing all this in the one town that takes it most for granted, mostly because Penguin fans think they've seen it all before. The die-hard fans appreciate it, but they get tired of explaining how remarkable it is to all those people who just don't get it. And it's not the die-hards that the Penguins have to win over.

The Penguins will always be able to draw 6,000 hockey fans a night, only that doesn't build this team a new Igloo. It's 12,000 a night, 15,000 screaming fans for 41 home games, that's what keeps these foul in the Golden Triangle for ever more.

The fans the Penguins need to excite are the very fans who are now pricking up their ears and wondering what all the fuss is about. They want to know what's going on at that odd-shaped arena downtown and they're the ones whose interest the team must pique and then sustain though what continues to look like a serious work stoppage at the end of this season.

Enter Marc-Andre Fleury.

Almost everyone who's seen him in black and gold agrees, Fleury is something special, and behind this Penguins team that's important. Scarecrows would be less expensive and nearly as effective as the Penguins' defense right now, and it's becoming clearer by the day that without a pact penned by Satan himself the four goals a night the Penguins will need to compete just aren't going to happen.

But stellar goaltending might and while hanging your goalie out to dry isn't a good way to build his confidence or win games, it can make for extremely exciting hockey and that is exactly what Pittsburgh needs right now.

Pittsburgh needs a reason to show up, a reason to be interested, and sadly (for reasons some of us only barely comprehend) Mario Lemieux is no longer enough. Thankfully—at least for the time being—Marc-Andre Fleury is.

He's young, he's exciting, and he appears to have the potential to carry the torch in Pittsburgh's storied lineage of outstanding athletes.

Assuming he is everything his early showing suggests, Fleury has already netted the Penguins a great victory. From here, the organization simply needs to amass the right army and begin the battle.

After all, that is how wars are won.

Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and he believes as long as Fleury's confidence doesn't get eviscerated playing behind the defensive equivalent of the Washington Generals, keeping Fleury in Pittsburgh all year is the only way to fly.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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