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Starkey: Penguins' 'malaise' a charade

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 10:36 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Rob Scuderi dives to help goalie Marc-Andre Fleury make a second-period save on the Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger on Sunday, March 30, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

As far as I'm concerned, Dan Bylsma made his best move of the season Wednesday: He canceled practice and banned media from an “off-ice workout” that preceded the Penguins' trip to lovely Winnipeg.

In doing so, Bylsma spared himself, his players and people like me from engaging yet again in the ridiculous spring ritual of pretending to care about meaningless hockey games and wondering why a team with nothing to play for often plays as if it has nothing to play for.

The Penguins are locked into the No. 2 seed. Some playoff matchups have been decided for weeks in the NHL's senseless new playoff system. The regular season is 20 games too long.

Be done with it!

That is what you're thinking. That is what I'm thinking. And that is what the Penguins, even if subconsciously, must be thinking.

“Desperate” is not a manufactured state of mind. You're desperate or you're not. That term paper is due tomorrow or it's not. The wedding is Saturday or it's not. We can all relate.

Maybe the Penguins' energy is sporadic — great against Chicago, fast-to-die against Carolina — because their current situation doesn't demand superhuman energy.

I'm not apologizing for them. I'm choosing to live in reality. If they go down in flames again this spring, it'll be on account of issues that preceded their post-Olympic malaise, not because they snored through a Tuesday game in April against the Carolina Hurricanes.

There is also the small matter of the Penguins missing Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis. I watched the Flyers-Blues game the other night. Do you think the Flyers might look different — maybe a little less “passionate” — without Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Coburn and Mark Streit for weeks at a time?

How about the Blues? Might their “interest level” seem depleted without, say, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk?

Be done with it!

Yet we walk around like androids — players, coaches, media, fans — asking the same questions, giving the same answers, offering the same tired critiques about the club's passion level. It's as if we've been programmed, against our will, to participate in a tortuous game of charades.

I've been covering the sport for almost 20 years, and I fell victim to the cyborg line of questioning just last week.

Zombie-like, I asked Rob Scuderi whether it's possible to manufacture passion this time of year when your playoff seed is virtually assured.

Zombie-like, he answered: “Well, we don't have that standings-desperation, but if we can manufacture it on our own to get ready for the postseason, we'll be in a good spot.”

Thanks, Rob. I now will move down a few stalls (against my will, remember) and do the same silly dance with Brooks Orpik.

Same zombie-like question. Same zombie-like answer: “The league's too good to think you can turn the switch on and off. We just have to start generating some momentum because we've seen in past years, if you do that, you can really carry it over to the playoffs.”

Yeah, but we've also seen the opposite: A team with little momentum wins the Cup.

That's another facet of the charade that drives me insane …

(Mitch from Pitcairn on the line): “Yeah, ah, remember when the Penguins won it all in '09? Yeah, well, they needed to win every game down the stretch. Don't you think it's better if they almost miss the playoffs?”

For every team that carries late-season mojo into the playoffs and wins it all, there is one who stumbles in and wins it all. The 2011 Bruins lost 10 of their final 20 and their first two playoff games. They didn't get desperate until they were, you know, desperate.

The 2007 Ducks lost six of their final 12. The '06 Hurricanes went 9-8-4 in their final 21 and lost twice at home to open the playoffs. Then they got desperate because they were, you know, desperate.

I'm not saying these Penguins will win even one round. I have no idea. They're a talented but flawed and injured team.

I just wouldn't have felt any differently about their chances had they beaten the Carolina Hurricanes, 10-1, on a Tuesday in April.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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