It was a miserable hockey Sunday for Pittsburgh Penguins and fans. Not only did the Penguins no-show against arch-rival Philadelphia Flyers in a game that could have given them complete control of third place in the Metro Division, but fans were subjected to another misdirected TNT broadcast.
Head coach Mike Sullivan spoke for only one minute and 51 seconds after the Penguins flatlined in a 4-1 loss to the Flyers.
“We weren’t good enough to win,” Sullivan repeated twice.
The loss would have been easy to dismiss if it were not their seventh in 11 games.
The Penguins’ regulation loss, combined with the Washington Capitals‘ loser point in a shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, means Washington trails the Penguins by one point with one game in hand. The loser gets Florida in Round One because Boston beat Montreal on Sunday.
We’ll circle back to the Boston-Montreal game and its significance to hockey, which TNT overlooked.
What is Wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins?
1. Three games in four days.
2. The game really didn’t matter.
Ok, those are the excuses, and we had to get them out of the way. Every team in the league has been through three games in four days several times this season. It’s a reality the NHL created when they abandoned the “series” type schedule.
Three games in four days followed four days of rest. There’s a real possibility that the same scheduling could occur to accommodate TV in any playoff series.
Are the Penguins too old to handle it?
Nobody stepped forward to change the negative momentum. Flyers goalie Martin Jones does become Patrick Roy against the Penguins, but if a couple of good chances don’t go in, you need a few more. The Philadelphia Flyers have shown a willingness to give opponents a few more, a few more, and a few more chances.
3. Malkin, Letang, Rust Uncertainty?
Something is missing. I cannot put my finger on it. There’s no defiance or a spring in the Penguins’ step. Instead, there’s an acceptance and shrug. The Pittsburgh Penguins players touted positives after Philadelphia mopped them up like grease from the grill at Pat’s; they struck the wrong tone on Sunday.
These guys are human beings, too. They are susceptible to the same doubts, emotions, and struggles as us “normal” folks.
Here’s the question I keep coming back to: Is the uncertainty surrounding the core’s future preventing the team from finding their best game?
When I asked Kris Letang that question a couple of weeks ago, he shrugged and shook his head, “No.”
I’ve asked Bryan Rust about it, too. He also quickly downplayed it.
But this reminds me of 2015. That team wasn’t clicking either and lost to the New York Rangers in five games. This team still has time to pull back on the yoke.
It could be they don’t care about playoff seeding. It could be more than a few players are nursing injuries. It could be many things, but this team doesn’t have the “it” factor they had last season.
Rickard Rakell or Rust, whoever plays with Sidney Crosby, looks like a world-beater. The other gets lost. Now it’s time for Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter to carry their share.
The struggles remain a mystery because the team is much better than they’ve been playing.
4. TNT, Please Try Hockey
Let’s be honest. TNT’s hockey coverage continues to avoid hockey. I see your tweets and complaints, and as a rule, I avoid commenting on other media. I don’t want them commenting on me, but this is an exception.
On Sunday, Kenny Albert and Keith Jones did a solid job on the call. There are no complaints about the nuts and bolts of the game call. It was good.
Yet, the network has taken four talented people for their studio show, Liam McHugh, Rick Tocchet, Anson Carter, Paul Bissonnette, and turned them into 20 minutes of unwatchable, detached, forced chuckles that have nothing to do with hockey.
Yet again, hockey isn’t good enough for its own broadcast.
As a prime example, TNT glossed over Guy Lafleur.
Tears flowed in Montreal. Fans gave a 10-minute standing ovation. There was an outpouring of tribute from players and alumni for Lafleur’s passing. Hockey Night in Canada–the gold standard of hockey coverage–paid tribute throughout the games on Saturday night.
TNT didn’t give more than a passing mention. Jones had some nice words, but that wasn’t enough. The network needed to do something real and tangible.
Carter and McHugh were solid with the other network. There’s no question they can handle themselves and make hockey talk interesting for a national audience. Carter was a breath of fresh air last season; enjoyable and insightful. McHugh knows how to keep things moving and prod his hockey people to give more.
On TNT, it’s flatter than the Penguins performance on Sunday because the network format shows no interest in hockey. Did the intermission shows break down the Penguins’ foibles or the energetic Flyers rookies on Sunday? Did they add anything to the game?
They spent a couple of minutes on a non-serious idea –a play-in game for seeds 7-10.
The disbelief on the panel was palpable. No one offered much more than incredulity. That was another two minutes wasted on frivolity.
The perpetual hope to attract casual American fans focuses on making hockey people talk about everything but hockey. That’s the opposite direction of what the NHL needs. Don’t try to make hockey people fun. Let hockey people make hockey fun.