April 29, 2011
(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 are Washington Capitals bloggers Russian Machine Never Breaks, fondly recalling the 2010-11 Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)
By Russian Machine Never Breaks
We come to bury the Penguins, not to praise them.
It's fitting that we Capitals fans have been given the honor to speak on this grim occasion. Fitting because we wake up every morning eagerly awaiting the latest Post-Gazette update on Sidney Crosby's concussion status. Fitting because we treasure every point taken from the Penguins (15 of the last 16, but who's counting?) as if they were shards of the Cup itself. And fitting because we know what it's like to see your team vanish from the postseason due to a flaccid power play.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins really died a few months back-- when Evgeni Malkin's(notes) MCL and ACL snapped like rubber bands left out in the sun, and Sidney Crosby(notes) became yet another victim in "Dirty" Dave Steckel's(notes) career of hockey violence. Without their twin stars (who, by the way, are the only players we Washington fans can pick out of a lineup), Pittsburgh's fate should have been sealed. Inexplicably, it wasn't.
The Penguins deserved a swift death from the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they didn't get it. The mercy killing was strung out over seven taut games, in which the Pens could muster up only one sad goal out of 35 power-play opportunities.
But let's not reduce the Penguins' season to one miserable, disinterested, and utterly ineffectual series. This whole season has been a hellacious pity party for the Pens, and we owe it to the departed and ourselves to pore over every detail.
The loss of Sergei Gonchar(notes) and the fragility of Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) in net had the Pens struggling in those opening weeks, but Dan Bylsma seemed to have everything sorted out by December. For that one glorious month, the Penguins were a juggernaut: stringing together a 12-game win streak. HBO's "24/7" captures the team at its cockiest, swaggering at the peak of hubris. We Caps fans just wanted to down a bottle of Merlot, draw a bath, put on an Elliott Smith record, and open a vein.
At the same time, Sidney Crosby scored at least a point in 25 consecutive games -- racking up 25 goals, 50 points, two hat tricks and one middle-school-caliber moustache. That streak ended on Dec. 29 in a game against the Islanders (who always manage to piss off the Pens). And that's when everything went wrong.
New Year's Day found the Penguins hosting the Capitals for a hyped-but-sloppy game in which Sidney Crosby wandered aimlessly into the razor-sharp shoulder of that malicious bastard David Steckel. (The Capitals won that game thanks to a superior, reactive coaching strategy and a glorious two-spot from Eric Fehr(notes), but that's a topic for another time.)
Dazed by Steckel's unprovoked assault, Crosby shook it off like a car-struck deer bolting from the freeway only to take another hit -- this time from Tampa's Victor Hedman(notes)-- just a few days later.
Bam. Concussion. Season over.
Just one month later, the already beleaguered Evgeni Malkin ended his season with a torn MCL and ACL.
Their season should've been a lost cause right then, but that fedora-wearing yobbo, Dan Bylsma, kept an even head. Simplifying his team's play and relying on one of the league's deepest defenses, he kept the Penguins competing long after they had any business doing so.
Pittsburgh fought to close out their season with poise and dignity. Yeah, right. No team took more standings points from the skills competition (OK, they're tied with the Kings, but we Caps fans don't know anything about the Western Conference). There's this haughty myth out there that the Pens' late-season success came hard-won and in the face of adversity, but that's nonsense. Without those 20 points purloined from shootout coin tosses, the Pens might not have even made the playoffs.
And what if Crosby hadn't been Steckel'd? Every blowhard up to and including Damien Cox's Sidney Crosby hairdoll predicted "the Kid" could reach the fabled 50-goals-in-50-games milestone. That probably wouldn't have happened (0.00040 percent), but Crosby did have a 34.86 percent chance of reaching Alex Ovechkin's(notes) post-lockout NHL record of 66 goals and a 18.55 percent chance of hitting Joe Thornton's(notes) 125 points. He even had a sporting 6.47 percent chance at besting Super Mario's 191-point season, which would have made Sunday dinner at his former landlord's house kinda awkward.
Without Crosby in the lineup, the Penguins got into trouble. Following a goalie fight that was so bad-ass even we cannot mock it, the Islanders were out for blood at the Feb. 11 rematch. The Pens didn't see it coming. Filling their ranks with scuzzy AHL players, the Isles treated the Penguins the way Brent Johnson treated Rick DiPietro's orbital bones. We Caps fans are a bunch of deranged and Pens-fixated cretins, but even we didn't enjoy watching that beatdown. It was an embarrassment, but so was the righteous indignation that spewed out of the Penguins organization afterwards.
● Oct 11: three separate goalie interference calls for messing with Rick DiPietro(notes)
● Nov 26: sending Erik Karlsson's(notes) head-first into the boards
● Dec 1: stole a thing of Tabasco from Qdoba
● Dec 21: elbowing Keith Yandle(notes) in the head
● Dec 28: elbowing Evander Kane(notes) in the head (this was a big week even by Cookie's standards)
● Jan 13: erased two episodes of "Cougar Town" from Maxim Talbot's DVR
● Feb 4: dropping the hammer on Steve Montador(notes) as if he were Kevin freaking Nash
● Feb 6: colliding knees with Alex Ovechkin (though Cooke got the worst of that one)
● Feb 7: spa day; no offenses committed
● Feb 8: sending an unaware Fedor Tyutin(notes) headfirst into the boards
● Mar 20: flying elbow into Ryan McDonagh(notes), earning him the suspension that ended his season.
No joke: The Penguin's name is "Cookie."
If the NHL is a "garage league" as Mario Lemieux says, it's only because of s#@&bums like Matt Cooke continue to be employed there. It's not like Lemieux's preening superiority is anything new, but at least his financial sponsorship of thuggery and hypocritical recriminations spiced up the part of the season we Caps fans usually sleep through.
Hey! Did you know that there are other players on the Pittsburgh Penguins? We didn't; had to Google it.
There's Mr. Hilary Duff himself, summer acquisition Mike Comrie(notes), who missed most of the season with a hip injury, clocking most of his hours presumably inside Lizzie McGuire's... uh... trailer.
And there are some other guys whose names and stats we can't be bothered to learn. A forgettable team for a forgettable season.
This goalie isn't that good. He will give us rebounds — he has — and he will give us cheesy ones on net.
That shaky goalie stopped 86 of 88 Pittsburgh pucks (.977 save percentage) and shut Bylsma's team out twice this season. Bruce Boudreau might have had barbecue sauce around his mouth, but Dan Bylsma had egg on his face. Yeah, we just made that joke. Deal with it.
So rot in hell, Pittsburgh Penguins. The lights are off in that garish Versailles you call a hockey barn. Your mewling army of yinzer fans can look forward to another electrifying summer from the Pirates and hope to contract something curable from Maxim Talbot.
If Sidney's hand-eye coordination is up for it, maybe he can level up his Blood Elf Shaman in World of Warcraft without getting a migraine.
Good night, sweet princes. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
And oh yeah. #$%& you, Geno.
Written by Washington Capitals bloggers Russian Machine Never Breaks. We can't stress this enough.
† All projections courtesy of Neil Greenberg's Monte Carlo Machine