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Penguins Blog: Unsettled Future Hurting Pens? TNT Whiffs on Hockey

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PIttsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, NHL Trade

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.

It failed.

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.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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The 814
The 814
7 months ago

Let Ernie, Charles, Kenny, and the Big Fella handle the hockey just one time. Dollars to perogies the NBA guys do a better job.

Paul
Paul
7 months ago

Lest we forget, the main reason the Pens lost in 2015 is that MAF gagged in the first and last games, while Lundqvist was solid throughout. In fact, MAF puked so bad (17 shots, four goals) in Game 5, Greiss replaced him in the second period. Thank goodness they finally found a money goalie the next season . . .

Last edited 7 months ago by Paul
Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

And two of those were OT losses

Kris
Kris
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Yep Paul’s hate has him making up things and believing them as fact.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

I understand that the Penguins are NOT using UFA’s as an excuse for their play but . . . Is there a franchise anywhere that works as hard to come up with excuses for poor play? First game after a long trip . . .too many days off between games . . . too many games over a short stretch . . .afternoon games . .. slow starts . . . late goals . .. on and on. Sorry but sometimes (like when you lose to the current Flyer team) it just says something about the willingness to deliver the… Read more »

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Since we don’t hear the daily pressers from other teams it’s hard to say whether or not it is any different. Very few players on any team want to admit to playing poorly.

Kris
Kris
7 months ago

Two comments: I don’t think the players care anywhere near as much as the fans as who they draw. You don’t want to go in not playing well sure, but we finished first in the regular season last year and how did that turn out? The TNT broadcast was light years better than the NHL Network Garbage from Saturday. Who the hell puts the 4 announcers on the screen for the whole game and thus makes the actual game footage smaller? That was bush league. As for TNT, its the first year and if the only complaint is the between… Read more »

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Kris

Neither are good.

Lynn Seethaler
Lynn Seethaler
7 months ago

Regarding TNT desk analysts(?) I concur. Very disappointing. No novel insight. Rick Tocchett is cardboard! Bissonette is not THAT funny. At least Anson tries to talk hockey. Jones is always a pro and I feel for him. We don’t have Pierre to listen to anymore, thank god, but at least he showed us he did his homework and then some. Wow. They need to watch the announcers from Canada …Hockey Night, talk hockey and make it about hockey, not a joke.

Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis
7 months ago

I don’t know why the NHL has split up coverage between all these networks making it hard to find the telecast of favorite teams. I bought ESPN + this year to follow the Pens. In the past I had NHL ticket. It’s too expensive. TNT, HULU, ESPN, ESPN 2 … make it hard for fans. I’m disgusted at Bettman and this TV debacle. It’s not helping to promote the game.