Mired in a dogged slump where they've won only four of their last thirteen games, the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves quickly dropping down the Eastern Conference standings as we hit the new year. As it stands now, the Penguins are only six points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team who's fan base and those covering them hope for a tank job in order to land John Tavares at the NHL Entry Draft next June. Penguins fans are frustrated. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who've combining for 109 points so far, are main targets with many fans, including myself, feeling there is too much unselfishness on the ice. As skilled as those two are, there are too many extra passes being made and are forgoing golden scoring opportunities.
There's also the fact that Pittsburgh lost a lot of chemistry in the off-season after Ryan Malone, Marian Hossa, Georges Laraque among others, were not brought back into the fold and instead replaced with Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Eric Godard. Combine that with the injuries to Ryan Whitney, Sergei Gonchar, and Marc-Andre Fleury and it was surprising to see the Penguins playing as well as they were just a few weeks ago.
Right now is a crititcal time for the Penguins to turn around their season. Head coach Michel Therrien has expressed his displeasure for their play of late and after Tuesday night's 5-2 loss at home to the Boston Bruins, a player's meeting was held to which the frustrated coach said, "It's about time they had a meeting," and added that, "I'm anxious to see what's going to come out of this." Therrien has done all he can during practice, games, and with his mouth. On the ice the team hasn't reacted, almost expecting things to fall their way again like it did a season ago.
Hopefully, the players-only meeting will wake the team up. Changes always come from the top and right now, it doesn't seem like General Manager Ray Shero will make a move to shake things up. The change and leadership needs to come from captain Sidney Crosby and trickle down through the rest of the lineup, otherwise Pittsburgh will join the list of the failed Stanley Cup maidens.
The next fifteen games will likely determine how the rest of the season goes for Pittsburgh. The effects of the players-only meeting will be shown over the next month of games which won't be easy looking at the schedule. Three games against the Rangers, along with match-ups against Ducks, Flyers, Capitals, and Devils are just as few of the tough tests in January. If the product on the ice isn't improved by February 1, Shero has to make a move to send a message to the team. Whether that's finally succumbing to a Jordan Staal trade or moving Ryan Whitney to free up salary cap space for the off-season, something will need to be done if Pittsburgh is still toiling around the eighth spot in the East.
I don't think firing Therrien will be the answer as he's done as much as he can to light a fire under the Penguins. Why would a different voice change that? And who's voice would be the answer? Shero has shown faith in the coach he inherited and was rewarded with a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Should the power-play continued to flutter, I wouldn't be surprised to see assistant coach Mike Yeo fired or demoted to Wilkes-Barre.
Pittsburgh has reached the final point before changes need to be made. Their is a level of expectation now in the Steel City and after tremendous growth over the past three seasons, failing to make the playoffs or not getting out of the first-round this spring would be a big step-back for a franchise that has the potential for greatness.
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