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Molinari: Looking For a Flaw in Penguins? Well, Here It Is

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Jacob Trouba

The Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-0-1 as they prepare to play in Edmonton tonight, look like a pretty good hockey team.

Their offense has been prolific and balanced. It has produced six goals no fewer than four times in the first six games, in part because all 12 forwards have scored at least once.

The team defense has been solid most of the time. That’s been especially true while playing 5-on-5;, the Penguins have given up a league-low four goals when both teams are at full strength.

Part of the credit for that belongs to Tristan Jarry, who has been their best player so far. He has the NHL’s fifth-best save percentage (.941) and tenth-best goals-against average (2.01).

When the Penguins are reasonably healthy — of course, every team is going to lose a number of man-games to injury and illness — they appear to be capable of competing with any opponent. Perhaps even of making a legitimate run at the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup, which would be remarkable for a club that hasn’t won a playoff round since 2018.

Naturally, a lot of things would have to break their way for that to happen.

Jarry will have to get to the very top of his game. And stay there.

Their aging core — specifically, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — will have to hold up under the rigors of an 82-game regular season. Then find a way to elevate their play when the stakes rise.

And the Penguins’ most important players will have to spend more time in the lineup than they do in the trainer’s room.

That might be the biggest challenge of all for them, since the Penguins seem to be willing to accept whatever abuse opponents are inclined to deliver to whoever they happen to target.

The most recent example came last Thursday, when Los Angeles forward Brendan Lemieux drove a shoulder into Jake Guentzel’s head in the third period of a 6-1 Penguins victory.

It was utterly cheap and unprovoked — although not the least bit surprising, considering Lemieux’s bloodlines — but the Pittsburgh Penguins’ response to their top goal-scorer being victimized appeared to consist of some dirty looks and perhaps a few verbal jabs.

Think that’s going to deter Lemieux from perpetrating something similar the next time the Kings and Penguins meet?

Delivering cheap shots is in Lemieux’s DNA, but even if it weren’t, watching the Penguins’ first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers this spring would have made it clear to him that he likely wouldn’t face retribution for any offense he committed against the Penguins.

If Lemieux had tuned into the opener early enough, he could have seen Jacob Trouba go after Guentzel on the first shift. The very first shift.

Had he stuck around through the first 20 minutes, he could have watched Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren knock Rickard Rakell out of the series until Game 7 with a hit to the head. Lindgren initially was given a major penalty, but the officials knocked that down to a minor because, hey, what’s the big deal about targeting a guy’s head?

Of course, those two minutes in the penalty box were more punishment than anything the Penguins gave Lindgren as Rakell was being helped off the ice … and put out of action until the series finale.

And in Game 5, of course, Trouba altered the course of the series when he drove an elbow into Crosby’s head during the second period. The Penguins, who had a 3-1 edge in the series and a 2-0 lead in the potential clincher at that point, would not win another game until October.

Trouba didn’t get a penalty, a fine or a suspension from the officials or the league. Perhaps the referees and Dept. of Player Safety were taking their cues from the Pittsburgh Penguins, who certainly didn’t make Trouba pay for what he did.

There was a time when a player who was guilty of what Trouba did to any player — let alone a captain and franchise cornerstone who is one of the premier players in NHL history — would have had a stick broken over his skull, and the jagged remains of the shaft jammed into his spleen.

It’s great that the NHL has evolved from the days when wanton violence was an integral part of almost every game, and clubs had to employ at least one guy who couldn’t do anything with his hands but make a fist simply to keep opponents from taking liberties with guys who could actually play the game.

(For those too young to remember the Dark Ages ushered in by the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s, be grateful. And not just because it means you aren’t old.)

But tolerating another club taking out a teammate with an unabashedly dirty play can’t be accepted, either, if only because it encourages others to do the same. Why not remove Crosby or Guentzel or Malkin or Letang from the mix when precedent says the downside might be a minor penalty. If that.

It’s not that the Penguins need to add a Georges Laraque type — someone who can reduce an opponent to a stain on the ice with a few punches — to their roster. Mike Sullivan is adamant that everyone in his lineup be able to play the game, and rightly so.

But the Penguins have to make it known that when a line is crossed, it will draw a response.

And that it won’t just be verbal.

Why this is an issue for the Penguins really is a mystery. It’s not a question of courage, because their roster is full of guys who are fearless when they’re actually playing the game. Do you really think that guys who have no qualms about absorbing a beating to hang out around the crease would be afraid to break a stick over the unprotected back of an opponent’s leg if the situation calls for vengeance?

Whatever the answer to this issue is, the Pittsburgh Penguins need to find it soon. If they don’t, they’re going to run the risk of losing their most important players. And a lot more.

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Alan Smith
1 month ago

Trying to design a perfect offense and a quality defense leaves the Pens without a goon for the what tenth year in a row? Being the odd goon man out who gets traded when you have 25 quality players and need a fighter? Seems the NHL officials are doing nothing to protect anyone. Maybe need to take the shots first and see what happens!

Ilja
Ilja
1 month ago

Zucker gave it the old college try. Probably the best part of that was watching l(small “l”)emieux crumple like he’d been shot. And wasn’t that Dumo ripping lower-case “l’s” lid off to facilitate the gang getting some free shots at lower-case “l’s” skull?

I wouldn’t say they don’t know how to retaliate; more like they’ve been conditioned out of it by Sully’s “play the puck not the man” approach.

Frankly, I approve. Loading up on skill-challenged thumpers can’t be the answer. That lies with Mario (Big “L”) finding a way to get Player Safety to do its damn job.

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

What exactly do you want the Penguins players to do? You’re right that they don’t need a Goon to “enforce” anything… I said it last year, that if the Penguins (or their Coach) wanted to Trouba it up, Dominic Simon’s elbow to someone’s head is as good as any elbow to the head. The Lemieux BS from last game was him trying to get the Penguins to retaliate… because the LA Kings were down (and out). If you watched the game later, you’ll see that there was a time and place for the Penguins to “get some revenge” on Lemieux… Read more »

Pepper
Pepper
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Which is why it’s been obvious for a long time that they need an enforcer. For as great as Sid is as a player, he is not a fighter. In fact, he’s hilariously bad at it. As are Malkin, Letang, Guentzel, Rust…on and on. Those guys trying to fight makes everyone on the other team want to fight them. A team’s best guys should never be the fighters anyway – facial bones are harder than hand bones. No point in taking the chance that your top scorer is going to break a hand fighting a nobody. Sadly, the Pens have… Read more »

Sudesh Prasad
Sudesh Prasad
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Molinari

Shanahan is a f’ing joke, as is Bettman.

dweth2
dweth2
1 month ago

This has been a problem for many years. We keep pointing it out but nothing is done. Why have all this talent and have no one to protect it is confusing to me.

The 814
The 814
1 month ago

What about long-term effects on the players who receive these headshots? Some are accidental (deflections and whatnot) but for the obvious – we all saw it, you did it, don’t even pretend like it wasn’t intentional – there needs to be on and off-ice judication.  On ice: mere seconds after, Lemieux should have been fed a Primanti Brothers-sized knuckle sandwich (complete with fries) by the four non-injured players. Then, going back to your historical references, “the code” kicks in on Lemieux’s next shift and he gets ground into powder by [I have no idea]. Does Grimson have any kids or… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by The 814
jack
jack
1 month ago

There is a player on the Canadiens….Arber Xhekaj…bottom pairing defensemen who plays within himself…isn’t as offensively gifted as Ty Smith, maybe even PO Joseph, but he doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, plays smart…and most of all instills the fear of god in the opposing team. In the OHL, the ‘tough’ guys feared him, no one would attempt dirty plays against his team. Zach Kassian found out recently how tough he is, and kassian is a legit tough guy in this league…see what happened recently when someone took a run at their new first rounder…he whispered some words and the… Read more »

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 month ago

Its October and Going to be November. Although I do think the Pens are a good team, I reserve judgment when the intensity & effort pick up the last 6 weeks of the year. Not every team has punched in right now. Thats why you see teams get off to get good starts and then hover around 500 over the last two months.

Pepper
Pepper
1 month ago
Reply to  Rich Filardi

It’s hilarious you got down votes for this comment, which is about as factual as anything can be. Homers, LOL.

ric Jefferies
ric Jefferies
1 month ago

The only way this ends is when the NHL says “enough” and issues severe penalties to the goons and the teams that condone, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. Fans cheer, hoot and holler encouraging the assaults. NHL is very aware that part of the attraction to the game for some is the brutality.

Donny D
Donny D
1 month ago

oh, Dave…. The real question is whether or not having an enforcer undoes (it doesn’t) or protects (maybe?) players from cheap shots. Baby Claude is a cheap shot artist like his daddy before him. Does he only do that against the Pens or other similarly assembled teams? Its an honest question that bears statistical analysis. Baby Claude has fought Tom Wilson – that didn’t stop him. He’s fought Evander Kane – no hesitation there. He’s also fought Detroit, Colorado, Sharks, Bruins,Wild, CBJ etc. etc. So obviously getting into a fight is not a deterrent. Is OPS a joke? Yes. But… Read more »

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

This a very good team. If may be a very good . .. old . . . team, but it is a good one. But keeping in mind that the “regular” 82 game schedule is nothing but a dressed up exhibition season to prepare for the playoffs I suspect there will be measurable alterations by April. However I do not expect anything that approaches this “policeman” role. First the team culturally is adverse to knuckle dragging 4th line forwards. Second they put a high priority on skill, skating, speed. Hard to argue with that of course. But like most fans… Read more »

Rory
Rory
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

If I was sitting in WBS, and I was 6’3” with a set of wheels, why wouldn’t I consider fast tracking at the goon academy. Let’s be honest, Sam Lafferty, DOC are never going to be game changers playing their style on a 4th line. However, if I had an iron fist and can throw a right how many clubs would be lining up for my services.

Wags
Wags
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Skating like that has gotten the Pens where in the last 4 or 5 years? Please explain. They are soft and that style isn’t working is it?

Ed M
Ed M
1 month ago

All sad but true. This is why the Pens are a great regular season team, but have packed it in early in the playoffs even when playing much lesser teams. In the playoffs the ‘intensity’ picks up (aka dirty play/cheap shots). The cheap shot that Jake just endured indicates this stuff also happens in the regular season albeit just mostly with the normal dirty players…in the playoffs it’s everyone in the pool like the Rangers last season. The solution is to punish dirty hits severely enough to get them out of the game, but the knuckle draggers in charge of… Read more »

Sudesh Prasad
Sudesh Prasad
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed M

I never thought I’d see a worse commish than Goodell.

Bettman: Hold my beer…

Benny
Benny
1 month ago

I would have liked to see Sid start swinging at lemeiuxs face then muscle him to the ground right when it happened, instead of giving him a hug and pushing him to the boards like nothing happened. I know you don’t want him getting hurt also but he’s the captain and you have to stick up for your teammates in that situation. If he gets a penalty for it or even suspended, doesn’t matter, at least players will know they don’t get free shots

Alan Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Benny

Really thought Sid was going to do something!

Wasnt
1 month ago

Great read. Glad I’m not the only one feeling the frustration. If the Pens keep winning the beatings will get worse. And the tough guy doesn’t have to go after the other teams goon but target the other teams scorer. That way they know if you target our scorer we go after yours.

MCP
MCP
1 month ago

Does Conner McDavid go through this. No!!! Why cause he has guys around him who can handle the shenanigans!!!!

Ujn Hunter
1 month ago
Reply to  MCP

To be fair, no one can line McDavid up…

Sudesh Prasad
Sudesh Prasad
1 month ago

Well said, Dave. Bettman’s NHL has never GAF about the the cheap shots taken upon the Pens.

The Boys just need to take things into their own hands.

kingpuck
kingpuck
1 month ago

Kassian 1/2 retained for McGinn. The guy can skate and play up and down the line up. He has reduced his knack for lazy penalties, and he is definitely the guy who not only will drop the gloves but will run the other teams star players with a solid check if ours are targeted.

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

I agree 100 percent Dave. Like you, I’m not suggesting the Pens run out and get a knuckledragger who can’t contribute to the team in other ways. But I sure wish we could identify/acquire/develop a guy who can play and stand up for the team should the need arise. A role Brian Boyle filled pretty well last season. It should be noted that old school Gary Roberts/Rick Tocchet type power forwards who can play and serve as a deterrent are difficult to find these days. A lot of them, like Boston’s Nick Foligno and Toronto’s Wayne Simmonds are on the… Read more »

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

100% accurate, undeniable fact. Has been this way for years. Kudos Dave.

Wags
Wags
1 month ago

Anyone who can remember watching Gretzky have a free skate every time he took the ice would understand what having a tough guy as a bodyguard means. No one ever touched Gretzky when McSorley or Semenko were around. Never! Sullivan had a guy like that in Reaves who would stand up for his team mates but he wasn’t even good enough to skate on Sullivan’s fourth line??? He rarely fights anyone but the deterrent is always there. Ask the Pens, Knights or Rangers what a great team mate he is

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

Pens have been soft for years. Last year our enforcer was Brian Boyle. He stepped up when needed and took on some tough customers. He offered what the team needed. He was injured in Game 6 going after Trouba (go figure). His loss didn’t help us to close out the series. There is talk about trading for Wayne Simmonds. Please NO! I’d rather bring Boyle back. He has more to offer. I wish we would have resigned him.

Wes Johnston
Wes Johnston
1 month ago

I recommend my brother for the job. He can’t skate, but boy, can he fight. He would just need to wear golf spikes in lieu of skates, and boxing gloves in place of hockey mits. Problem solved, baby!

Clearwater Faithful
24 days ago

Here here!!

We need someone who will even the score when necessary! It’s called deterrence people.

Oh BTW we need defensemen who can actually defend and not just stick check .