So I guess that delighted throng of Penguins fans who lined up halfway to East Liberty for the Black & Gold scrimmage two weeks ago tonight knew what they were doing; that scrimmage, for the moment, remains the highlight of the home hockey season.
Now we're fully six feckless periods into the real thing, and just like on that night, the Penguins just continue to beat themselves.
All the throbbing interest in this hockey club, so intense from the sports books of Las Vegas to the Canadian outback to the hills of Western Pennsylvania, remains pretty much unreciprocated when it comes to the people who wear the real Penguins gear onto the Uptown ice.
During the second of two New York Islanders power plays in the middle period Tuesday night, for example, you could have detected more movement out on Fifth Avenue by the people waiting for the last bus to Rankin than by the four Penguins trying to keep New York from scoring for the second time in two minutes.
They failed, of course, as movement remains a prerequisite for NHL success, and Matt Moulson pumped the fourth Islander goal of the night past a flopping Marc-Andre Fleury for a 4-0 lead that stood as impenetrable until Pascal Dupuis scored with most of the largest Consol Energy hockey crowd ever already out the doors.
Funny, earlier in the day Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had been talking about the importance of getting a good start.
"Especially at home," Sid said after the game day skate. "You want to make sure we get our crowd into it, get some momentum. It's a good mentality to have when you're looking at the first 10 minutes, make that your focus for a short period and go from there. You want to keep it simple, not thinking we've got to put on a show out there. Just do things right and eventually our chances will come."
Sid wasn't looking for urgency, particularly, but head coach Dan Bylsma lined Evgeni Malkin up next to him to start the first two periods anyway in an obvious attempt to jump start an offense that scored once in 65 minutes Sunday in Ottawa, and not at all in the final 40 in Winnipeg two nights earlier.
Those attempted jump starts went about as badly as is mechanically possible, although I suppose technically no one was electrocuted and the car didn't actually catch fire. Still, there was a terrible smell coming from the area of the process.
There probably wasn't a more evident dichotomy relative to special teams competence anywhere in the league Tuesday night, as the Islanders' power-play skaters and penalty killers were consistently superb.
The Islanders had killed off 17 of 18 power plays on the young season, then smothered all three the Penguins attempted, both minors and five-minute major arising from Colin McDonald's reckless boarding penalty against Ben Lovejoy, who fell dazed to the ice late in the second period. The Penguins had more than a minute left before the horn and nearly four minutes on the other side to dent New York's lead.
They managed exactly two shots.
The record crowd let 'em have it, unofficially registering its loudest roar for a blistering, scolding BOOOOOOO!
"They have every right to do that," said forward Chris Kunitz, who assisted on the only Penguins goal. "We're not executing and there's nothing we can do but work ourselves out of it. Bend your knees, go into the corner, shoot the puck toward the net."
It sounds elementary my dear Bugsy Watson, but it's fairly complicated when you look at the width and breadth of what troubles the Penguins all over the ice. There is no discernible forecheck, which used to be nothing less than the fulcrum of the entire Bylsma system, the catalyst for offense and defense alike. There is either no secondary scoring or almost no scoring at all. Suddenly, there is no terribly reliable goaltender either.
Fleury was dismissed after two periods and Tomas Vokoun has already demonstrated that, like the new 2-niner, the old 9-twoer can give a multi-goal lead away, as he did in Winnipeg.
Thus there are plenty of places to start reparations, but in the current NHL reality, precious little time. Talk about taking away time and space. The Penguins play Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, meet the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils here Saturday, then travel to Washington for a Capital confrontation less than 24 hours later.
"We're not getting the puck to Sid," said Kunitz of a power play that in the past four games is 1 for 14. "We're not getting the puck deep. When we have such high expectations, when we don't execute it's disappointing."
Good scrimmage though, right?
First Published January 30, 2013 5:00 AM