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Tim Benz: Growing tired of the Penguins' 'too tired' excuse

| Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, 7:51 p.m.
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray sits in his crease after being beat by the Ducks' Andrej Kase in the first period Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray sits in his crease after being beat by the Ducks' Andrej Kase in the first period Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) battles for the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) battles for the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It's been an inconsistent first half of the 2017-18 Penguins season. Many fans and media members are explaining that away with the blanket statement of “They're too fatigued.”

Which fatigues me.

Anyone else agree?

“I don't think it had anything to do with fatigue,” said goaltender Matt Murray after Sunday's 6-5 overtime win against Boston.

Good, I'm not alone.

The Penguins have hit their mandatory weeklong NHL break with just as many wins as losses, 22-19-3. As of now, that record barely qualifies Pittsburgh for the eighth and final playoff spot.

It's hardly the Stanley Cup defense hockey observers expected from the back-to-back champions.

A convenient explanation for the way Pittsburgh has plodded through the first three months of the season is to say the team is just too exhausted after playing so much hockey the last two years.

In part, that's probably true.

Back-to-back Cup runs are mentally and physically taxing. But suggesting fatigue is the only reason — or even the main reason — why the Penguins have struggled this year is intellectually dishonest.

We know the team's history. Yet, some are choosing to ignore it. The Penguins have illustrated for us that going that deep into the playoffs in consecutive years doesn't necessarily preclude you from success in the ensuing regular season.

The 2009-10 team finished with the third-best point total in the Eastern Conference (101) after two consecutive trips to the Finals. The 1993 team won the President's Trophy after back-to-back titles.

If fatigue was a factor for those clubs, it didn't manifest until the second round of the playoffs in each case.

That is to say nothing of dynasties from Montreal and New York that won more than two titles in a row.

The fatigue explanation also is inconsistently applied. I heard it advanced a lot this month after dog efforts against Carolina, Anaheim and Colorado.

However the team sure did show lots of jump and energy in comeback wins against Columbus twice, Boston and a blow out of Philadelphia.

How do we explain that? Were they suddenly “just not tired” anymore?

That being said, I'm not dismissing the notion that this week off could help.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby suggested the team could use mental downtime. Defenseman Kris Letang said physical rest would be nice.

“It should serve us well,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It'll be both a mental and a physical break for everybody. I don't think it's a bad thing for us to get away from the game a little bit and recharge the batteries.”

Agreed. That goes for any team during an 82-game season. As Sullivan reminded us, every other team gets one of these breaks to deal with their level of fatigue.

It's just overly protective analysis to simply pin the ups and downs of the team on being battle-weary. By continually painting with that broad of a brush, you never have to identify individual shortcomings.

Frankly, that's just too easy, convenient and lazy.

Sullivan deserves tons of gratitude after winning two Cups. So far this season, he's struggling to find answers just like all of us.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin deserve rose petals at their feet wherever they walk in Pittsburgh. By the time they return from this break, however, neither will be in the top 20 in goals scored. In fact, Crosby is currently 39th.

The goaltending isn't as good as it was last year. Letang has struggled to return from injury. Justin Schultz has barely played. Jim Rutherford has yet to properly replace Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino. Brian Dumoulin isn't living up to his new paycheck. Ian Cole can't stay in the lineup. Jake Guentzel appears to be in a sophomore slump. Carl Hagelin is just in a slump … period.

In other words, there's so much blame to go around it's easier to just say: “Well, they're all too tired.”

That kind of talk is fine for now. We have a 24/7 drama-filled headline-machine of an NFL team in town that could continue distracting us for another month.

Who knows? They might lose Sunday. And if the Penguins are “too tired” now, is a week off going to cure that? Because, if we are to believe this narrative, a few months of rest between June and September —twice — apparently didn't.

If the Penguins are going to continue to swing back and forth between wins and losses, and the only point of discussion out of each game is going to be how worn out they are, then we'll all be worn out from that excuse by March.

If we aren't already.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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