Let’s be a little premature in saying the Pittsburgh Penguins will make the playoffs this year. They better make the playoffs or the CONSOL Energy Center may be overthrown by disgruntled fans. There is too much talent on their roster for anything other than a post-season berth.
While many fans still carry a bad taste with them from last year’s playoff exit, nothing but a Stanley Cup appearance will be viewed as a successful 2013-14 season for the Pens. No one is concerned about the regular season, but the Pens need to prepare for playoff success once the puck is dropped against the New Jersey Devils on October 3rd.
They need to send messages that weren’t handed out last season. The Pens’ biggest problem since their last Stanley Cup win is their team mentality. The first thing that they must do is protect their two superstars. Players cannot hesitate to fight, or take a penalty, to protect Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
The abuse that Crosby took from Detroit Red Wings’ forward Justin Abdelkader on Monday night cannot be tolerated. If the Pens have to take a penalty, or fight, to shield their stars in the regular season, that is fine with me. The agitators of the hockey world will think twice before approaching Crosby or Malkin. At the present time, no opposing player is afraid to get in the face of Crosby or Malkin because there has been no intimidating force on the Pens’ roster to provide protection.
I’m a huge proponent of discipline, but protecting the Pens’ stars must be a priority. Attempting to deliver this message during the regular season may cause the Pens to lose a few more games if they take the necessary measures to stick up for Crosby or Malkin. I’ll take a few more tallies in the loss column during the season to build a force field around the Pens’ stars come playoff time.
Protection will open up more ice for their superstars and may entice a change in offensive mentality when the playoffs arrive. The Pens lost to the Boston Bruins because none of their talented forwards wanted to skate into the high traffic areas. Not one of their top scorers put their head down and drove directly towards Tuukka Rask’s net.
Despite the late realization against the Bruins that fancy plays weren’t going to get the job done, the Pens’ superstars still didn’t simplify their style. Someone needed to put in the sacrifice by crashing the net to bury a rebound or tip-in a shot taken from the point. The Pens’ superstars were too stubborn to change up their offensive approach and didn’t want to take a beating because of the physical price they’d have to pay. An enforcer who will protect the Pens’ stars can change this mentality for the better.
The beating that Crosby and Malkin take will be minimized if the Pens find players who won’t hesitate to stick up for them when the time calls. If Crosby and Malkin drive to the net and show they’re willing to play in front of an opponents’ net, the rest of the team will follow in their footsteps. If the Pens find protection for their stars and the stars show a willingness to play gritty hockey, a Stanley Cup Finals may be held in Pittsburgh this season.