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Kingerski: The Penguins Are Crumbling From Within



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Edmonton Oilers

Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas demured more trades before the 3 p.m. Friday NHL trade deadline, citing a hope that prices will rise in the summer or before next year’s trade deadline. As Dubas digs into the Penguins roster, the necessary changes are not small or insignificant.

The team stinks, actually.

They laid down in another loss Sunday, their sixth in seven games, losing to the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 at PPG Paints Arena.

Soft as butter. Disinterested. Mistake-prone. And yet, ironically, they’ve become hard-handed with the puck on their stick and a goal tantalizing close.

Highlighting the lowlights, they have been shut out three times in 11 days. The sad and weary faces that occupy locker stalls at home and on the road offer no hope and no solutions for a turnaround. Players sit quietly, sometimes stewing in anger, other times perplexed by the collision of positives that should have been and the negatives that have become reality.

Motivation shouldn’t be a factor, but it is. Multiple players spoke of the deep need to give more.

“Nobody is happy with what’s going on (or) how they’re going,” said winger Bryan Rust, who returned to the lineup for the first time since the Feb. 25 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. “You got to find a way to make that confidence for yourself. You’ve got to push it, that extra two, three or four percent to get over the hump.”

Yes, the team needs more effort. No, the chance for a turnaround came and went on Friday.

It’s not on a coach when a star player has reached the end of his run, nor when acquired talents fail to perform to their standards. Nor is it the fault of the team when the only replenishments before Michael Bunting was acquired in the Jake Guentzel deal on Thursday night are Jesse Puljujarvi and Emil Bemstrom.

Neither Bemstrom nor Puljujarvi have provided evidence of being worth NHL sweaters, but they occupy the Penguins’ third line.

The Penguins have lost time and again in part because they failed to put forth the necessary effort. In games like the Sunday loss to Edmonton, they had 40 shots but scandalously few second chances.

They are shooting. They’re just not doing the hard work that follows.

“We’re just not getting good second opportunities,” said Reilly Smith. “So, it might be just crashing the net and trying to grind our way out of this right now.”

So, why haven’t they? Why do they speak of things they should do, too infrequently doing them?

The Penguins badly need a heart transplant. Sidney Crosby is the beating heart of the team, but one captain only has so much to give. If Crosby is just a wee bit tired after carrying his team all season, no one could blame him. Having heart and soul guys such as Bryan Rust back in the lineup with the scrappy Bunting will help the cause, but it seems well past time the team can resurrect its season.

But the rest is a bad mix of talent, fading talent, and sated veterans.

With five weeks to go, the season is dead, and they know it.

The last 10 days could have–and should have–been their reclamation, but instead, it was their decimation. Just as the team did last season, they waited until their big chance to play their worst hockey. Such failure speaks to a lack of something internal.

Who knows exactly what that intangible asset would be, but the need for it has been large enough to be visible from space for months.

The last two weeks have been lifeless, uninspired, and the mark of a team playing out the string rather than fighting for a playoff spot.

“It’s tough. The games haven’t gone the way we wanted in the last six or seven,” said goalie Tristan Jarry.”It’s finding that motivation. Finding something that motivates you and finding something that can elevate your game and bring a new level.”

The words fed to us through phone recorders and cameras say one thing. The on-ice performances have side something entirely different.

To my knowledge, no one has yet flipped tables or read anyone the riot act. That’s too bad. If any team in the last decade of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey deserved to be rebuked, this one has earned it in surplus.

Management greatly erred by leaving the team largely intact unless you believe Chad Ruhwedel and Magnus Hellberg were vital cogs without whom they could not survive. Dubas played a chess game of asset management, hoping the prices would rise later, failing to account for the present moment.

In the process, the dispirited team is crumbling even faster. Another year of Crosby’s brilliant career has been needlessly wasted, and now in his later 30s, there is no telling how many more of these age-defying marvels he has left; the end comes quickly, and Dubas punted this one.

Now, a depressed and bewildered team is searching for answers without enough talent to find them. Deep down, every team knows how good or bad they are, and the Penguins know.

They don’t need social media to tell them.

They also know their season is over five weeks short of the finish line.