Gorman: Putting a finger on Pens' problems

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, April 16, 2010

Take your finger off the button.

There was no sense of panic in the Penguins' dressing room Thursday, even after a 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal that seemed to stun everyone at Mellon Arena.

It's one game in a best-of-seven series they should still win.

But something seems to be off.

What the Penguins were missing from Game 1 also was missing from their regular season: the regularity of spectacular play. They tended to play to the level of their opponents, even when their talent level was superior.

That speaks to either a lack of discipline or lack of desperation. Although Dan Bylsma cited the desperation and urgency levels as issues in the Game 1 defeat, you can't expect a coach to suggest that his team lacks discipline.

Unless, of course, his name is Michel Therrien.

What the Penguins need to find is a better balance between Therrien's defensive-minded discipline and Bylsma's offensive-oriented system. Something similar to the way they were playing at this time last year.

"At the end of the day, the playoffs are about doing details, making sure your system is perfect, that every time you step on the ice you're prepared for every situation," defenseman Kris Letang said. "A bad bounce can happen, but playoffs are about details, about sacrifice and about hard work. For most of the time, the team that works the hardest will win the game."

The Penguins won the Stanley Cup last June not because of the sometimes brilliant play of core stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury but rather a collective brilliance.

"I think that's the willingness to go and do the right things, to try and find a way to win, and that's sticking with the plan and sticking with knowing the way we know how to play," Staal said. "We have to find the players in here to do it."

That brings us to Rob Scuderi.

Now that he's in Los Angeles, Scuderi and his former shutdown defense partner Hal Gill are often lamented as the missing pieces to the Penguins. Although Scuderi's sprawling save in the crease in Game 6 is remembered as one of the heroic plays of the Cup Final — along with Staal's shorthanded goal in Game 4 and Max Talbot's two tallies in Game 7 — it was the type he made with regularity during the season.

The type the Penguins need from anyone and everyone.

"I don't think that anybody has to put that responsibility on their shoulders," Crosby said. "When your team plays well, you provide the opportunity for somebody to step up in situations. It's not something they consciously have to put on themselves."

But it wouldn't hurt if someone — Ruslan Fedotenko, Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky or Talbot, take your pick — found a way to flip that playoff switch we keep hearing about.

But, if you haven't read between the lines, not everybody is on the same page. And not because of Fleury's reputation for turning the page quickly following the number of playoff games he's allowed five goals.

"I don't think he was at his best," defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "but we weren't at our best in front of him, either."

Something is off, and the Penguins better find the answers.

"We've just got to get everyone to buy in and play the same way, that's it," said Orpik, later adding, "I don't think fingers need to be pointed anywhere in this room."

That's where we disagree.

The Penguins need to look in a mirror and point fingers at themselves, if they want to get past Ottawa and make another run at the Cup.

If not, then maybe that panic button.

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