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Kingerski: Penguins Sending Message, They’re Done.



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis, Florida Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas said the All-Star Break was a soft deadline, and his team would tell him which direction they were going.

The answer has been submitted. A late second-period burst of desperation and fear was not nearly enough. The Florida Panthers dismantled the Penguins, or perhaps the Penguins allowed themselves to be dismantled 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena.

Must Read Penguins recap: Second-period flameout dooms Penguins.

There are three weeks until the March 8 NHL trade deadline. The team is now squarely in Dubas’s hands because the words and hope are merely the incantations for the service.

Following the game, captain Sidney Crosby spoke forcefully and with belief, pushing back on fan and media gloom. If there is anyone who deserves the leeway to espouse belief and be believed, it would be the player on whose back the flightless birds have ridden.

“I mean, (doubt) is not coming from in here. I don’t know where the boos are coming from. The first power-play, however far that is into the game, I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” Crosby said. “I think that we got a lot of belief in here, and we like to think we work pretty hard. So right now, yeah, it’s not coming from here. So you’d have to ask your colleagues where that’s coming from.”

Penguins changes are badly needed, but it’s quickly becoming too late.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Many of the players in the Penguins locker room have no-trade and no-movement clauses, which means they also get a say on changes.

But after their latest lackluster performance, perhaps they won’t stand in the way of changes. Sans help from management or a bolt of lightning from above that fixes the incomprehensible problems, this team looks like it’s done.

The big-picture implications of the latest loss were impossible to ignore. The Penguins now trail the Philadelphia Flyers by 11 points with only four games in hand. With opportunity shining brightly following their bye week and a shutout win in the first game after the break, they have lost three in a row, ceding any likely chance of making the playoffs.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight and learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, do not go gentle into that good night.

The Penguins need a few hefty win streaks to get back in the race. It’s not impossible, but there is no evidence that a team that cannot rise to the occasion when the opportunity is presented will suddenly spring to life.

They spotted Florida a 4-0 and 5-1 lead before finding their fire.

“Sometimes, when it’s flat, we can’t fall asleep. We have to manufacture our own emotion, our own juice, and get to our game one way or another,” said defenseman Kris Letang. “I think it was pretty flatlined tonight.”

That’s inexcusable, but has been far too common this season.

The Penguins won 11 of 14 faceoffs in the first period and had two power plays but had just three shots on goal. The restless home crowd became as dispirited as the man-advantage, and a few well-earned boos cascaded, but even they drifted away into the slumber of the first period in which the teams combined for seven shots.

The Penguins’ third power play provided their biggest burst of excitement as it appeared Rickard Rakell scored, but a review quickly showed Lars Eller knocked the puck away from Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with a high stick. The Penguins managed just one shot on three power plays.

Not long after the Penguins power play, it was 4-0 Florida.

Following the third power play, the Penguins’ penchant for bad mistakes shined brightly as the second power-play unit overcommitted in the final seconds, leading to a three-on-one Florida break and a Matthew Tkachuk goal.

Don’t worry. The Penguins didn’t rest on their laurels. Just 34 seconds later, Florida fourth-liner Jonah Gadjovich was free for a deflection and his second goal of the year.

Several minutes later, Aaron Ekblad scored a power-play goal for a 3-0 lead. And Anton Lundell was on the happy end of another odd-man rush after a Penguins’ turnover for the fourth.

It felt like watching the team wave the white flag. There was an air of acceptance which is the most damning criticism of all.

Goodbye. Farewell. Amen.

If the MASH reference is too old, perhaps you’ll recall Cheers when Sam Malone straightened the picture of Geronimo, which belonged to Nicolas Colasanto (Coach), before turning off the lights and saying, “We’re closed.”

If Cheers is too old, perhaps the Friends finale when Monica and Chandler lock the apartment for the final time.

You get the idea. There was an overwhelming sense of finality as the Penguins yet again failed to muster an appropriate effort with so much on the line.

Penguins and fans might be transitioning from denial to anger about now. Bargaining and depression are next, followed by acceptance.

The idea was that the Penguins and Dubas could resurrect the team after the failures of last season with the acquisition of Erik Karlsson and some fresh faces, but the fatal flaw was that they failed to address the aging spirit.

No one has played harder and more determined hockey than Crosby. However, not nearly enough others have played to that same level of determination or the maximum of their capabilities.

After the overturned goal and reversal of fortune, the Penguins looked defeated. The spirit was gone. The hustle that showed in the first few minutes was replaced with going through the motions. Acceptance.

They felt the fear and raged against the dying of the light late in the second period. But it was far too little and far too late.

In a game that the Penguins very much needed to win, they did not put forth their best. Or perhaps that was their best, with the mere bookends of fleeting fancy drawing from past glory.

Dubas has been looking for a sign. Wednesday, his team provided it in flashing neon.