May 13, 2010
(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here is Washington Capitals blogger Jon "J.P." Press of Japers' Rink, fondly recalling the Pittsburgh Penguins.)
By Jon "J.P." Press
Oh, hey there. Forgive me, but I wasn't expecting you so soon. I mean, the defending Stanley Cup champions facing the playoffs' 16-seed coming off an emotionally draining seven-game series against the Presidents' Trophy winner? I thought I had another couple of weeks, at least, to compose my thoughts on the end of the Penguins 2009-10 season, but it wasn't to be.
To paraphrase Mike Lange, "Scratch my back with a Halak-saw."
As a Capitals fan, let me say that I feel your pain. We Caps faithful saw firsthand how dominating Jaroslav Halak(notes) and how unstoppable Mike Cammalleri can be. We saw how soul-crushingly stifling the trap is when well-played and facing a stubborn opponent. We saw what can happen when star players go missing. And just last spring you taught us first-hand what a Game 7 no-show on home ice feels like.
Had the Pens learned from the Caps' mistakes, we might not be here today. But alas, here we are (well, most of us, at least). The Penguins' two-year run of consecutive finals appearances is over and there's nothing left but the crying, which, in Pittsburgh, never ends, thanks to the kid they call captain. (By the way, have you ever seen anything more immature, lackluster, or wholly disappointing before? But enough about Sidney Crosby's(notes) moustache, let's get to his play...)
Critics (if they are brave enough to go against mainstream hockey thinking, and if the first 6.99 games of this year's Olympics are any indication, they're not) will point to Crosby's one even-strength point in the series and awful performance in the decisive game and claim he "disappeared" or "choked" or "failed to provide much of any leadership to his team against a vastly inferior opponent."
They'll try to take away from the Rocket Richard winner's one road goal in the second-round series by pointing out what men have known for generations -- that no matter what kind of weak game you bring to Montreal, everyone scores at least once.
But the fact of the matter is that Crosby deserves praise -- unlike last June, Sid the Kid was at least able to withstand the rigors of a Game 7, play the entire game and shake his opponents' hands after the game. That kind of leadership is rare. Further, the hockey establishment now could finally get that meaningful Sid vs. Alex match-up they've been longing for ... in Cologne.
But just because Sidney is gone from these playoffs, he won't be forgotten. He's sure to appear regularly shooting pucks into a dryer (one wonders if Mrs. Lemieux allows him to take target practice in their basement) or peddling some other product. Just don't expect him to stoop to an appearance on Leno, Letterman, The Daily Show, or anything else that would
promote the sport and not a brand that pays him handsomely require him to exhibit an ounce of charisma distract from his preparation for next season.
And he'll need to re-double his efforts this summer, as the weight of the team he's carrying is only getting heavier. Evgeni Malkin(notes) played atrocious even-strength defense in the regular season and followed that up with a playoffs in which he failed to register an even-strength point in his last eight games.
Marc-Andre Fleury's(notes) save percentage in the playoffs was well south of hockey's Mendoza line for goalies at a cool .891 and has declined in each of the past two regular seasons from a robust .921 to a below-average .905 in 2009-10.
The list goes on, and it all serves to remind us that there's a reason they talk about Crosby as the type of player who makes everyone around him better. Wait, no there isn't -- they just say that and continue to search for the ideal wingers for The Kid.
Of course, Pittsburgh's early exit not only deprives hockey fans of getting to see more of this particular cast of black-and-gold-clad characters (including hockey's easiest man to root against this spring, Matt Cooke(notes), a personality so vile he made Marc Savard(notes) into a sympathetic figure), but it also brings an end to the "Igloo" era, as the famed arena has now permanently shut its doors and the Pens will move across the parking lot to CONSOL Energy Center (which, incidentally, will be christened by something almost as unlistenable as Pual Steigerwald and Bob Errey calling a Pens game: Lady Gaga).
Fun Igloo fact: The only time the Stanley Cup was ever presented in the building, it was to the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings.
Fun CONSOL Energy Center fact: The building will be the NHL's first "green" arena, complete with recycled hairstyles and powered by the radiation of fake-bake tans. Hopefully the Pens leave their "here's a white T-shirt to put on so we can all look the same" playoff tradition in the building that Jean-Claude Van-Damme fought so valiantly to protect.
As the tears of Gary Bettman, Pierre McGuire, Michael "Hockey Haunches" Farber and others flood the streets to create a fourth river in Pittsburgh, we're left with a sense of loss as big as Hal Gill(notes), as if there was simply a piece to the puzzle missing in what should have been another Stanley Cup run. Already sent home for the summer were the Capitals and Devils, who were a combined 10-0-0 against the Pens this season; beat the eight-seed and then the six or seven and another shot at the Cup would be Pitt's.
Instead, Pens fans have to sit back and watch the Keystone State's last best hope at a hockey championship in 2010 -- the
Philadelphia Flyers Hershey Bears. Yes, the Penguins 2009-10 season has come to an unexpected, embarrassing and somewhat painful end, much like an evening out in the same area code as Ben Roethlisberger. Truly sad.
So goodnight, fair Penguins. Enjoy your last few weeks as Stanley Cup Champs, Pittsburgh. Godspeed, Igloo. And mission accomplished, Brent Johnson ... mission accomplished.