By Kyle Scott, Crossing Broad
Friends, family, Yinzers, Dan Bylsma's glasses, other assembled dignitaries and steelworkers: We gather today to mark the passing of the 2011-2012 Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that even its own fans grew to hate.
And I'm here not to celebrate their abbreviated existence, but to salute their timely death.
Because I don't like them.
We must rewind to last season to fully understand the 2011-2012 Pittsburgh Penguins (who, unfortunately, had their round of 18 cancelled today due to the inclement weather in the Steel City).
October, 2010. Little-known rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was - shockingly - given the start for the Flyers in the season opener, the first regular season game to ever be played at the CONSOL Energy Center. There Bob sat, hours before the game, alone, in the vast expanse of the Penguins' new home. The Igloo it was not, this lone gem amongst a thicket of bridges, steam, and dirty-blonde mustaches.constructed with gamblers money, would prove not as intimidating as its predecessor, as was evidenced by the fact that this rookie goaltender - the young Russian seated alone in the stands - was able to earn his first career victory in front of 19,000 undoubtedly torched Yinzers.
Spoiling the building's baptism was just the start, though. The Flyers would go on to a 7-2 record at the CONSOL Energy Center over the next two seasons.
Later in the 2010-2011 campaign, the Penguins became the darlings of the NHL (if the nonstop manual stimulation from the league and NBC hadn't done so already). Along with the Washington Capitals, they were featured on HBO's 24/7.
Whether it was due to clever editing, a nearly month-long win streak at the time, or the way in which Bylsma's striking glasses contrasted with Bruce Boudreau's dribble, the Penguins and their coach came across as a fairly likable group. Even Sidney Crosby seemed like something other than the whiny, overrated, pond-eating scum of a hockey player that he is.
Unfortunately for him, the show climaxed with Pittsburgh's captain getting his bell rung on a seemingly innocuous hit, and it would be almost a year before the Penguins could wrestle him back from the brain-eating monsters that would have made even the Hulu folks jealous.
Sid's nap time partner and the league's ugliest player, Evgeni Malkin, would also suffer an unfortunate fate in 2011, as he missed the end of the season with a blown apart knee.
That sent the Penguins into an early summer filled with key questions that needed addressing.
This is where they sealed their eventual fate.
General manager Ray Shero low-balled Stanley Cup hero Max Talbot by only offering the free agent-to-be a three-year deal. Perhaps Shero was saving money for the anticipated return of Jaromir Jagr, the second greatest player to ever lace them up for the Penguins.
Thus ended Talbot's time in Pittsburgh... and began the corny #Jagrwatch: life-needing Pittsburgh fans and bloggers tracking the status and location of their former star as he seemed destined to return to Pennsylvania's other city. Which he didn't.
Insert the Philadelphia Flyers.
On July 1, capping off a two-week period in which Paul Holmgren was a man with a gun (and a credit card), the Flyers swooped in and signed both Jagr and Talbot, just hours apart.
The Penguins? This:
While the Flyers, Rangers and other rivals added talent and depth to their rosters, the Penguins plugged holes by re-upping Tyler Kennedy and signing 102-year-old Steve Sullivan.
Steve Sullivan… the guy who looks like he's post-coital crying every time he scores:
Forgetting that the world doesn't revolve around Pittsburgh's hockey team, the Penguins had low-balled their beloved two-way forward (Talbot) and assumed that they'd be able to re-sign Jagr for less money and without an ice-time guarantee. Smart moves from a team that wasn't sure when its captain's soft spot would fill in, and whose leading goal-scorer had a serious knee injury. It was typical arrogance from the Penguins (something that would rear its ugly head again this spring).
Despite the misfires and setbacks, however, the Penguins' depth, experience and goaltending helped them to a solid start in the fall. They led the Eastern Conference in points (32) at the end of November. Malkin came back stronger and better than ever (eventually leading the league in goals and points, 50 and 109, respectively). And Crosby, who returned just before Thanksgiving, appeared to be back for good.
However, unlike in 2011, the Penguins hit a bit of a wall in December and January: Crosby was sidelined again with concussion symptoms, the offense struggled as the team lost low-scoring games, and Penguins fans watched as Jagr and Talbot returned (home?) and contributed to a Flyers' victory in late-December.
Talbot's reception befit a Stanley Cup hero. He received a loud ovation and was genuinely welcomed back by wistful Yinzers. Jagr - the second greatest player in team history and future hall of famer - was booed lustily, with a vigor and ire that could only spring from the hearts and minds of those who grew up in a second-rate city like Pittsburgh.
Surely Jagr hadn't gotten the memo. He hadn't heard that the hockey world revolves around a small industrial town in Pennsylvania. He hadn't received word that world-class athletes in the twilight of their career should accept half the available money and an uncertain role in exchange for the pride of playing in front of a people whose most famous fan is a fat lady who knits.
Indeed Jagr hadn't received that memo. So he was booed. The man who brought steel workers such glory (and thrills normally only available to Pittsburghians on pay-cable) was cast as the villain. For what? For making the no-brainer decision to take significantly more money and accept a greater role than what was available to him in that awful city with too many bridges.
By booing Jagr, Penguins fans proved that they either have no class, or lack even the most basic of cognitive abilities to comprehend an obvious decision for the man they now call Jagoff.
That night, Jagr scored and saluted the fat lady, who, with an almost Pavlovian response to adversity, flipped off the city's former hero.
Talbot - who earlier in the game had been speared in his "[expletive] penis (as captured by 24/7) - iced the game with an empty-net goal. 4-2, Flyers.
A pattern of Penguins inferiority to the Flyers was developing. This might not be their year.
The Penguins finished that month in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, as they watched the Rangers, Flyers, Bruins and Panthers leapfrog them in the standings.
Trouble continued in the gray city.
Crosby's lingering concussion symptoms led to discussion about his career being in jeopardy. So much conjecture, in fact, that one Pittsburgh reporter (who would later tell the Penguins to give up after going down 3-0 to the Flyers) wrote of a rift that had developed in the locker room over the C.
Citing team sources, Dejan Kovacevic said that a group of players held a meeting to discuss the captaincy, as they were growing tired of the uncertainty surrounding Crosby's return.
The team fought back by showing up to the practice the next day with Cs taped on each jersey.
While the report of a rift was likely inaccurate (or slightly exaggerated), it would have surprised exactly no one outside of Pittsburgh if the unlikable, selfish and disrespectful Penguins players had held a secret meeting to oust their then-soupy-brained captain from his position. In fact, it sounds like something Matt Cooke would have spearheaded (that's just an educated guess).
Admittedly, though, the show of support was an endearing action by Penguins players, even though I always felt that it would have fit better had the Cs been in the shape of alphabet blocks...
The Penguins regrouped. Crosby returned and his body rediscovered its proper estrogen balance. The Penguins surged into the playoffs, winning 32 games over the final two and a half months of the season.
They were back, baby. Back to being NBC's sex toy. Back to being Cup favorites even though the Rangers had proven themselves to be the class of the Eastern Conference for much of the season. Everybody was picking the Penguins. Even Mr. Wyshinksiyksiykisi himself:
Everyone was picking the Penguins... yet no one considered that the 2011-2012 version was perhaps the most self-entitled, disrespectful, dirty, arrogant, overrated, excuse-making, out-of-touch, unlikable, unabashedly delusional, gutless, lying, no good, rotten, snake licking, dirt eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, heartless, fat-assed hockey team assembled in the modern era.
Where's the Tylenol?
I'll admit that, as a Flyers fan, we're bred to hate the Penguins and Sidney Crosby. But for much of this season (I write about it in present tense since the Flyers are still playing, but you Pittsburgh folks can call it last season, if you'd like) our attention was focused on the Rangers, who beat the Flyers six times.
The Winter Classic played a big part in that, no doubt. But, to me and most Flyers fans, the Rangers and Bruins were targets to be feared-- not the Penguins. I'll also begrudgingly admit that I had even grown to (somewhat) appreciate Crosby and his teammates while watching last year's 24/7 (call it temporary insanity).
However, any respect that I had quietly developed for the Penguins quickly went out the window on a Sunday in March.
The Flyers beat the Penguins in overtime that day. But what stood out was Chris Kunitz smearing Scott Hartnell's face into the ice. Harntell, admittedly a nudge, laid on his stomach, helpless as Kunitz rubbed the skin off the side of his face It wasn't a hockey play, it was an I'm going to hurt this person play.
Two weeks later, when the Flyers flew to Pittsburgh for the first of too many trips over a three-week period, Joe Vitale injured Danny Briere on a (clean) hit in the final minutes of an out-of-reach Flyers victory.
Jesus, even Bylsma backs down from a fight. Typical. Pittsburgh typical.
Over the course of the next few days, seemingly every 40-something hockey personality lined up to take swings at the Penguins.
The Penguins shrugged off the backlash. The next week they called up Ogie Ogilthorpe (career goon Steve MacIntyre) to play the meaningless season finale against the Flyers. Luckily that ended without incident.
A week later as the Flyers inched toward a 3-0 series lead, the Penguins emptied the barrel against their superior counterparts: Arron Asham cross-checked Brayden Schenn in the neck and punched him in the back of the head. Craig Adams, like a grade schooler trying to get himself a date, pulled Hartnell's hair. James Neal nearly knocked out Sean Couturier and then elbowed Claude Giroux in the back of the head.
[Nicholas J. Cotsonika: Claude Giroux leads Flyers past Penguins and into Round 2]
And Crosby, who, as usual, avoided involving himself in any one particular fracas, skated around the ice and poured gasoline onto every brush fire he could find, or, more appropriately, went around giving the Flyers wedgies and wet-willies.
Three players were suspended and Bylsma was fined, proving that the Penguins' month-long crusade to show themselves one of the most vile teams in hockey was complete.
[I know this is supposed to be funny, but I'm not even sure how make jokes when trying to convey what ass clowns the Penguins were.]
They fought to hurt and hit to injure. About 95 percent of the time in hockey there is a line, an undefined yet clear as day line that players and coaches know to stay behind. When an opponent is clearly beat in a fight, you pull back.
Not the Penguins. Crosby fired at Giroux as he turtled on the ground. Kris Letang pummeled Kimmo Timonen, whose jersey covered his head and rendered him useless after the first punch of a Game 3 fight. Adams rained blows of the back of Hartnell's head. These weren't hockey fights... they were street fights.
Malkin seemingly hit to concuss. Neal torpedoed into two Flyers in one shift. And Brooks Orpik sat on and clung to opposing players like that desperate drowning man in Titanic who nearly toppled Rose as she was trying to locate Jack in the frigid North Atlantic water. Jack! Jack! Ja... GET THE [expletive] OFF ME, BROOKS ORPIK!
This was all par for the course with the Penguins.
Meanwhile, they ignored prose from writers and fans who were embarrassed with their hometown team. That's tough to do: lose the respect of slores who have ready access to life-sized bear costumes at moment's notice. But they did it. They somehow lost their own fans. And how demoralizing it must have been for Mario Lemieux to watch as his former mate, Jagr, shrugged off the antics his whiny star.
By that point it all spiraled out of control for the Penguins. They had sufficiently embarrassed themselves and their city. A last gasp for air yielded two victories, but it wasn't enough. On Sunday, April 22, Claude Giroux drove the final stake into the empty hearts of the Penguins when he asserted himself as the alpha male in Pennsylvania... and all of hockey.
Instead of solemn prayer, let us salute the death of this shameful excuse for a hockey team.
We salute Marc-Andre Fleury not being able to stop a beach ball... or an Erik Gustasffosososnnffsosnoffson shot:
We salute a team that embarrassed itself with antics that even drew a barb from the former British prime minister.
We salute Sidney Crosby vanishing and being overtaken by Claude Giroux as the best player in the game.
We salute Sean Couturier for renting the manhood of Evgeni Malkin.
We salute the Flyers ruining the opening of the Penguins sterile home. We salute the Flyers scooping up Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr on a warm July day. And we salute the death of the 2011-2012 Penguins.
Jags, you want to do the honors?
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