• Kovacevic: Game 7 can't airbrush Penguins' problems

    By: Dejan Kovacevic , TribLIVE


    PITTSBURGH - Picture the scene around 10 p.m. Tuesday at Consol Energy Center if the Penguins take Game 7 from the Rangers and salvage this Stanley Cup playoff series.

    I know, I know. I watched Games 5 and 6, too.

    Just go with it, OK?

    (This article was written by Dejan Kovacevic, a staff writer for Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.)

    Suppose it happens, and that there are hugs and handshakes all around, sirens blaring, towels twirling, and only the Bruins or Canadiens standing between the beloved home team and the fifth Cup final in franchise history. Everything will be fine. Everything will be just swell. And all it will have taken is a little get-to-our-game refocus to show anew that the Penguins' way is the right way.

    Well, call this crazy, but that's more troublesome than any outcome I can envision for this one game.

    Because it'll mean that for yet another year, the real, hard, underlying reasons this team has fallen short spring after spring, even with a supremely talented core that would be the envy of any organization in professional sports, will be buried. And that nothing will change.

    It won't change that this team's best forwards in Game 6 on Sunday were Brian Gibbons and Joe Vitale, a $1.1 million total investment, over the combined $225,676,000 invested in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.

    It won't change that Matt Niskanen, their best defenseman in this series and all season, is good as gone this coming offseason in large part because Ray Shero last summer committed $58 million to Kris Letang. Niskanen is better than Letang.

    It won't change that the fan base is as disappointed and disillusioned with the Penguins as I can recall since the Rico Fata/Dick Tarnstrom era. And those guys tried.

    It won't change that the Rangers, who looked wretched through four games and only ordinary the past two, are the ninth lower-seeded opponent the Penguins have faced since the 2009 Cup final. As in, all nine.

    It won't change that Rob Scuderi, 35, is in the first of a four-year, $13.5 million contract. And no, he's not eligible for the amnesty buyout.

    It won't change that, like dogs looking at rainbows, the Penguins' players hear “north-south” and play “east-west.”

    It won't change that, in a league that's increasingly stressing moving in packs and possessing the puck, Dan Bylsma's priority is the 110-foot stretch pass.

    It won't change that Wilkes-Barre's most promising forward is journeyman Harry Zolnierczyk. He'll turn 27 before the next training camp.

    It won't change that legit young talents such as Simon Despres will seldom get a chance to prove themselves — or fail — in the all-important regular season. President's Trophy or bust!

    It won't change that the only player to come to Crosby's aid at any point in this postseason has been Kunitz, a 5-10 skill guy. All Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass have been enforcing is no cutting in line for the press box nachos.

    It won't change that the culture of I'll-do-whatever-I-want bottomed out in Game 6 with Beau Bennett, of all people to feel some natural entitlement, taking two penalties.

    It won't change that Crosby has one goal in his past 17 playoff games. Something's wrong there. And if it isn't physical — I'll repeat I don't believe it is — then something's really wrong there.

    It won't change that Shero and the Penguins' scouts watched local boys Brandon Saad and John Gibson grow up right under their noses. Even invited them for a tour of Consol a month before the 2011 draft. Only to allow both to fall to the second round while they chose Joe Morrow. Morrow, of course, was traded for 10 weeks of Brenden Morrow. Saad's a Cup champion in Chicago, Gibson a current sensation in the Anaheim net.

    It won't change that Neal has failed to score in 30 of 37 career playoff games. Yikes.

    It won't change future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla being moved to left wing to accommodate Neal.

    It won't change that Rick Nash felt emboldened enough to hit someone in Game 6. (Sorry, not shaking that one.)

    It won't change Shero giving Jaromir Jagr's money to Tyler Kennedy.

    It won't change that no one at any level of the Penguins has spoken a critical syllable about anything all season, save for Scuderi's “Harlem Globetrotters” quote in Edmonton. That includes the silent owners, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle.

    It won't change that the Penguins' hypersensitive brass, even on the hockey side, remains fixated on controlling the message and brand rather than improving it.

    This isn't good enough. Not with this core. Not with this market's passion for hockey, all the money that's poured into it, all the reasonable expectations of excellence.

    The most glorious of Game 7s won't change that.

    (Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.)

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