eWith their latest defeat, a 3-2 shootout loss at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, the Pittsburgh Penguins have once again amplified their already palpable locker room tensions.
Through 23 games (more than 25% of the regular season), the team has squared out a meek 13-8-2 record. For a team with the highly touted firepower of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, as well as the defensive talents of Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, such a start seems hardly fitting.
But a middling record is far from the team’s largest problem at this point. Frustrations have risen and head coach Mike Johnston has found himself on the hot seat. The players have been forced to publicly insist that they are not mad at one another. Then, in a most troublesome development, rumors have begun to circulate that tensions have erupted between Crosby and Mario Lemieux.
Perhaps such fears would not seem like such a huge deal if not for the worrying manifestations of Crosby’s frustrations that have begun to display recently, including during the loss to the Oilers. During a moment on the bench, Crosby shared an exchange with winger Patric Hornqvist that can best be described as “charged.”
The discomfort caused by this scene are only compounded by further rumors about Crosby’s relations to the team, this time with his teammates.
Per NHL source today: no rift between Crosby/Lemieux but common belief is Crosby frustrated w/teammates & teammates more frustrated w/Crosby
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) November 28, 2015
Whether or not the rumors about Crosby’s relations to either Lemieux or his teammates are substantiated, it is clear that something foul has taken hold in the locker room of the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the team cannot find their feet and steady the ship before the end of the year, it would not be a surprise to see them fulfilling their preseason bill as “most likely to disappoint.”
They will have a nice chance to gain some ground as six of the next 12 teams they face are, as of this writing, in possession of losing records. However, just because a team like the Anaheim Ducks has a losing record does not mean that the month of December will be a cakewalk. The opportunity to exacerbate the situation in the locker room exists and it is plainly in view.
For now, all Penguins fans can really do is cross their fingers that first quarter of the 2015-2016 regular season has been a blip on the radar. Otherwise, truly major change could be headed to the Steel City.
Will has written for a number of publications, varying from print to digital media. His work has been featured on SI.com, PensLabyrinth, The 405, Metacritic and The Social Humanist. Beyond hockey, he has written on the subjects of music and politics.