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Penguins a Bit Distracted? COVID, Holidays, Uncertainty Taking a Toll



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

The last four or five periods have not been high-water marks for the Pittsburgh Penguins season. They squeaked past the lowly Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils to win their sixth and seventh games in a row, but let’s be brutally honest, the hockey was not very good.

Head coach Mike Sullivan said, “it wasn’t our best,” on Sunday night.

“It wasn’t pretty. I don’t think we had our best, and you know, we’re pretty good at times, but just seemed like there wasn’t a whole lot of rhythm, especially offensively for us,” Teddy Blueger said.

Alls well that ends well, as far as the Penguins are concerned. However, the slippage in play is too much to brush under the rug. The Penguins had more subpar performances than they had good ones. The PHN+ report card was full of bad grades, including Kris Letang, Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Zucker, and the power play earned a red F, only because there isn’t anything lower.

Just a couple of hours before the game, the NHL and NHLPA released a joint statement confirming the NHL would not pause the season. While multiple outlets, including Boston Hockey Now, credibly reported multiple teams were vociferously pushing for it, and some players were on record advocating a pause, the NHL season will grind through the staggering wave of COVID positive tests.

The tone from the Canadian networks which dominate NHL coverage was a loud drumbeat towards a pause, so much so that it seemed a near certainty as the debate raged behind closed doors among teams and the league.

The ever-honest and insightful Zach Aston-Reese put it this way:

“Coach wasn’t too happy with the way we played, but at the end of the day, both teams played kind of bad. I think just kind of all the news swirling around that games are getting canceled and teams are shutting down might have crept in,” Aston-Reese said. “You know, it’s a little tough just to stay focused when you don’t know if you’re going to play or not. And the guys are tested, and you don’t know if it’s coming back positive. I know they didn’t test till like 4:00 p.m. yesterday, but that’s what the rumor was (there was a pause coming).

Human nature. Are we going to play? The focus was on IF there was a game, not the game.

Fair enough, eh?

The Pittsburgh Penguins head coach took a little bit of a different angle. He dismissed the noise around a potential NHL season pause but conceded the holidays are a distraction.

“Listen, there’s always noise. That’s the way I look at it. There’s always noise around this league, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we focus on the task at hand and concentrate on what’s important. We can’t allow any sort of distractions to get in the way of the approach, the daily approach or more importantly, the mindset, you know, going into each day,” said Sullivan.

“The holidays always present a challenge for everyone because it’s just human nature. And so we’re trying to be vigilant against that stuff. Part of my responsibility as the head coach and our coaching staff is to make sure that we heighten the awareness, that we stay on task and that there’s business to be done here. And we’re going to make sure that that we do everything within our power to make sure the focus is where it needs to be.”

I almost feel bad for putting the boots to the Penguins after their snoozefest against New Jersey. Of course, we all have to go to work, and we all have to perform, too. In this case, the Penguins did escape with a win, and things are only getting better as Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust joined practice on Monday, albeit in non-contact jerseys.

However, the Penguins next game will not be against New Jersey, as the game was postponed due to the Devils’ COVID issues. There may be an unofficial season pause as more and more teams reach the inability to play.

Maybe it is better that way instead of being distracted wondering if the league will do it.

Thurday night, COVID willing, the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers.