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Starkey: Penguins' arrogance astounding

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

They never learn.

Every time the Penguins start to feel good about themselves, it seems they want to feel better. Good isn't good enough. They are hockey's great narcissists — hopelessly addicted to their own wondrous skill.

Their 4-3 double-overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday provided yet another stirring example, in addition to costing the Penguins home-ice advantage in this first-round series.

The Penguins dominated the first period and led 3-1 going to the intermission. That kind of lead should be good enough this time of year, or as defenseman Matt Niskanen put it, “There's no reason to give up scoring chances — unnecessary ones — when you have a two-goal lead in the playoffs.”

The idea has to be to nurture the lead. To make it last. Defense should be the overriding mindset.

Only it wasn't.

That became clear when coach Dan Bylsma threw four forwards over the boards, including Evgeni Malkin at the point, for a power play six minutes into the period. The move shrieked offense. The situation called for a more conservative mindset — and it's not like the Penguins lack power play-capable defensemen.

The Blue Jackets had no business getting back in this game. Bylsma left the screen door open. Columbus had been dangerous on the penalty kill all season and had scored a short-handed goal in Game 1. There was no reason to take a chance.

Sure enough, Malkin fumbled a puck at the right point. He escaped unscathed. He then was victimized at the left point, which led to a 2-on-1 and Matt Calvert's short-handed goal.

This was sheer Penguins arrogance — and it changed the game for good. They never recaptured control. After outshooting the Blue Jackets, 15-4, in the first period, they were outshot 41-27 the rest of the way.

Afterward, Bylsma explained that he went with four forwards because it worked so well during the regular season. That is true. The Penguins had the league's top-ranked power play. But the playoffs are a different animal. Coaching staffs have way more time to break down opponent's special teams. They look for weaknesses.

Malkin on the point is a weakness.

I asked Calvert if Columbus went into the series looking to exploit the Penguins' four-forward power play.

“I think so,” he said. “I think as a team we do get a ton of chances short-handed no matter who we play. It's something we try to kill power plays with.”

Bylsma opined that defense on the power play hadn't been issue “until these last two games,” but it sure looked like the Penguins had been living on the edge for weeks now. And he'd already gone to the two-defensemen look after the Columbus shortie in Game 1.

It wasn't just the coach who fed the goal monster. The captain did, too. Sidney Crosby threw more interceptions than Neil O'Donnell in a Super Bowl. He was “credited” with a game-high four giveaways, more than the entire Columbus team, as he repeatedly attempted high-risk, cross-ice passes.

The disease spread. Malkin, on an early power play, tried a dangerous blind pass between his skates (it worked, which probably only fed the monster). Even goalie Marc-Andre Fleury — the only reason the Penguins had a chance — got caught up in the act when he head-faked a Columbus forechecker before making a pass.

After the power play gone wrong, the Penguins were so infected that the two-defensemen power play gave up a golden chance.

We haven't even mentioned the offensive-zone penalties or the defensive breakdowns. Kris Letang again generated some beautiful Columbus scoring chances. He's been the Blue Jackets' MVP through two games.

The Penguins are actually lucky to be tied 1-1 in the series.

Will that be enough to humble them?

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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