Kovacevic: Expect big changes with a choke
NEW YORK — Things will change.
Things must change.
If these Penguins go down in flames for yet another Stanley Cup playoffs by falling to the Rangers in Game 7 on Tuesday, if they do so after barely breaking a sweat against an exhausted and otherwise unremarkable opponent, if they do so after two of the least passionate postseason performances in franchise history — including the 3-1 throttling in Game 6 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden — then this really would be it.
This would be a gag unlike any we've seen, even in a half-decade of spring failure.
This would be the one that gets Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle involved.
This would be the one that brings meaningful, maybe seismic change.
I'm told ownership is fed up. They're furious. That's not a guess, either. They don't like what they're seeing, and no, unlike the bulk of the fan base, they don't see it solely as a coaching issue. They don't like any of what they're seeing.
And the changes that could result from that … wow, the mind boggles.
Dan Bylsma tops the list, and there should be no question that he should.
Can anyone convince me why his job should be safe if a choke is completed?
It's wholly incumbent on the head coach to have his players energized and focused on employing winning strategy. So when the Penguins have risen to that level in three of 12 playoff games by my count, when they concede the first two goals and 12 of the first 14 shots in this one, when they dump puck into the attacking zone six times in the first period and never once touch the puck on one of hockey's most easily scripted plays, when they preach a north-south power play while all the passes go east-west, when they repeat the importance of avoiding stupid penalties by forwards and Beau Bennett, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Sidney Crosby take more stupid penalties Sunday … we're either talking about nothing being taught or outright insubordination.
Either way, it's damning.
And yet, in spite of all that, Bylsma's most forceful statement about the latest slow start: “It is a concern. You're behind by two goals for … 52 minutes, I think it was, and that was a hole we couldn't dig ourselves out of.”
Move over, Knute!
Make no mistake: This coach is in trouble.
Ray Shero can't emerge unscathed, either. The lack of organizational depth is due to drafting that's been scandalously bad since Craig Patrick's departure. And the broader composition of the roster, notably its sudden softness and its preference for pokechecking over hitting and its fragility and its nonchalance, that's on the GM, too.
For crying out loud, the Rangers' Rick Nash, who can skate with eggs in his pocket and not crack one for weeks, actually hit someone in this game!
How emboldened is any opponent for that to happen?
Crosby isn't going anywhere, but his role can't be ignored.
We've seen exactly one Crosby-like performance and exactly one Crosby goal. Oh, and one shot taken on the power play this entire series, a floating wrister from 45 feet Sunday. And I don't want to hear excuses that he might be hurt. Not anymore. I don't believe he is. At least not physically.
What's more, this is the captain, at least according to that “C” on his sweater, and we aren't seeing any semblance of leadership on or off the ice. We sure didn't see it with that childish cross-checking penalty at the end of the second with his team down two goals.
Sid's scathing indictment of his team and/or himself: “We're working hard, but we still have to do a better job of clearing rebounds and getting to the net.”
By my count, exactly one player has been saying all the right things and backing them. That's Matt Niskanen, who remarkably has no letter on his sweater.
You know, I can't even bring myself to mention Marc-Andre Fleury and his couple of weak goals the past two games. Because it would be criminal to assume success for any goaltender playing behind a dispirited, disorganized and undisciplined team like this. Maybe he'll come into play, too, but not yet for me.
For now, all of the above, and so much less, has brought the Penguins to this Game 7, to this potentially pivotal point in their history. Lemieux and Burkle were here again Sunday. Lemieux sat with Crosby at his stall after the game. That's a pretty powerful message.
It will be fascinating, on so many levels, to see if anyone even cares.