As Penguins go their separate ways, they realize things will be different when they return
May 15, 2014 8:35 PM
Kris Letang packs up his sticks as he prepares to leave the Penguins locker room for the final time Thursday, May 15, 2014 at the Consol Energy Center.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s a scene that plays out every spring.
Equipment bags, a bundle of sticks and a game jersey were neatly arranged at every stall in the locker room Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
This time, the so-called breakup day heading into the offseason had a distinct feel of finality to it — and not just because there were 12 pending unrestricted free agents in the group.
“Anytime you have expectations and you fall short, there are going to be changes. So, yeah, I expect there to be some changes,” said Penguins winger Tanner Glass, one of those eligible for unrestricted free agency if not re-signed before July 1.
Player personnel likely won’t be the first or only area hit after the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in the second round of the playoffs, a stinging collapse that marked the fifth time in as many postseasons the team has failed to get back to the Stanley Cup final after winning the Cup in 2009.
Coach Dan Bylsma and his staff could be let go at any moment, and perhaps others above him.
Support for the coaches was strong among the players.
“That’s the best coaching staff I’ve played for,” said winger Jussi Jokinen, another impending free agent. “We respect [Bylsma] a ton. They prepare us perfectly, and they give us all the details.
“I don’t think you could ask for a better coaching staff or a better head coach.”
There was an understanding, however, that someone, perhaps several people, will pay for another truncated playoff appearance with their job.
“When you don’t meet the expectations, you understand as an athlete and being part of this team that the expectations are high,” center and team captain Sidney Crosby said. “If you don’t deliver, then you have to own up to that as players and as an organization. We all understand that.”
Center Brandon Sutter, an impending restricted free agent, is hoping there won’t be an overreaction.
“I don’t know if there are many problems,” he said. “I think it’s more little things that aren’t really huge. Maybe some fresh ideas can change that, but I don’t think there’s much that needs to be fixed.
“I think there needs to be maybe a few things shaken up, but not sure how you do that. There’s a few different ways. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean anyone leaves. It’s maybe a mindset.”
It remains to be seen what the Penguins might look for if they revamp the roster.
At times in the playoffs, scoring — particularly from their high-end forwards — was lacking.
Jokinen had a thought about one thing that could help that doesn’t require a change.
“We probably missed Pascal Dupuis a lot this year,” he said.
Dupuis has been out since December because of a knee injury. His regular spot is on the right wing on the top line with Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz. Jokinen, who usually plays with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on the second line, figures with Dupuis and a settled top two lines, other lines combinations would have fallen into place better.
“If he had been healthy … then, we’d have more depth,” Jokinen said.
The Penguins might also consider adding more of a physical element, especially for the playoffs.
There were times in the playoffs that Crosby in particular was targeted. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was hard on Crosby, delivering a cross-check to the back of Crosby’s neck, among other things.
Crosby, who had just one goal in the team’s 13 playoff games, occasionally retaliated, and Thursday he wasn’t apologizing for that.
“If you watch the games and see when that stuff happens, probably in games where the scores were out of hand, I feel like I can whack a guy back and it’s not going to have an influence in the game,” he said. “But I don’t feel like I was off my game. I like to play hard. For every shot I take, the odd time giving a shot back once in a while, I’m OK with that. It’s the playoffs.
“I’m not going to say that I can’t be better, but I’m not going to answer for being emotional. I don’t think my focus was lost.”
Asked whether some of his teammates should have stepped in, Crosby said there was a “fine line” because of the danger of taking a penalty. Asked if the Rangers and, in the first round, the Columbus Blue Jackets, crossed that line when playing a physical game without being penalized, Crosby shrugged.
“It’s playoff hockey,” he said. “I feel like you expect everything and anything to go in the playoffs. … I wouldn’t say it got too far. You watch, and that’s common throughout every series. It gets pretty heated.
“We have to make sure we adjust to that. … If it is going to be that type of style, maybe we need to adjust the way we play a little bit better. We need to play a little more physical or if they’re going to let a lot go, maybe we should use that to our advantage, too.”
Which is where someone such as rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland might have come in, if he had dressed for any of the playoff games.
“That’s probably the toughest thing to watch — how little room he got and respect he got on the ice,” said Engelland, another potential unrestricted free agent. “Probably the biggest area that I would have been able to contribute is giving him a little bit of room, maybe call guys out that are taking liberties on him.”
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