Takeaways from 3ELIEVE!

You pretty much know it’s over before it begins when a team’s marketing department capitalizes on a team’s recent playoff success with a catchy, hybrid word serving as this year’s mantra.

Time to stop 3ELIEVING.

The laundry list of reasons for the Penguins’ second-round loss to the Washington Capitals is somewhat valid and somewhat hysterical.

Hysteria first:

  • Kris LeTang sucks. Well, no, not even close, but he will show up again on the list of valid gripes which seems a better place to address the problem(s) with LeTang.
  • Matt Murray sucks. Well, no, not even close. Murray was spotty this entire playoffs, and definitely struggled at inopportune times, but the Pens could have won despite Murray.
  • Mark Andre Fleury is a Greek God and would have beaten the Caps by himself – with no pads – wearing ice shoes – blindfolded – smoking and drinking an IC Light! Wasn’t so long ago Pens’ fans wondered if Fleury would ever win another playoff series.
  • Phil Kessel’s “injury” turned him into a shell of himself. Whatever comes out about the Kessel situation – whether or not he was injured – is just part of playoff hockey for every team. The Caps found a way to win with injuries, as all teams have done and continue to do in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • The Caps were “due” to beat the Pens. Whatever. The team that plays better wins the series in the playoffs, history be damned.
  • The NHL fixed the series so the Caps would win, or in Yinzereze, “Them jagoffs in Toronto don’t want the Pens winnin’ another Cup man, they want Ovi to have a Cup.” Hmmm . . . the Pens are constantly in the top two or three teams in the league in television ratings on NBC and NBCSN while Washington meanders somewhere in the low middle. Case closed.

Valid arguments:

  • Kris LeTang is a problem. Three goals, 8 assists and an even plus/minus rating in 12 games sounds more productive than it was. LeTang’s defensive gaffes, lapses and turnovers led directly to two game-winning, breakaway goals for the Caps. There is legitimacy to the argument that he has lost a step and is not able to play his risky style because he can no longer recover. He makes far too much money and plays far too many minutes to not be better than Justin Schultz or Brian Dumoulin, no disrespect to either of those good players.
  • First period disinterest really hurt. To quote the late Herb Brooks, or at least Kurt Russel playing Brooks in Miracle, “You guys are playing like this is some throwaway game up in Rochester.” That quote snuck into my mind too many times during this playoff run. The Pens’ slow starts helped Philadelphia and Washington both jump on the Pens early making games much harder than they had to be.
  • Sullivan was outcoached. That is a hard one to swallow. I love Sullivan, his mentality, his focus and his tactics, typically, but Barry Trotz figured out a scheme that slowed down the Pens and allowed Washington to use its team speed to outskate a great skating team. Sullivan also struggled to find a way to jump start Kessel and Brassard, and the line combinations never felt cohesive beyond the top line. There were spurts, but nothing sustained.
  • Far too many turnovers. Carelessness with the puck seemed contagious. Not just in the playoffs, either. The Pens really struggled this season with turnovers and gave up too many odd-man breaks. Mental lapses in the defensive zone leaving players uncovered were also an issue. Overall, the Pens were too sloppy and paid dearly for their mistakes.

The Pens were reduced to a very average team by Washington. There is blame to go around, but also solutions. Tough decisions will certainly trouble Jim Rutherford, Mike Sullivan and the rest of the Penguins’ braintrust if they are to return to the elite level they certainly are used to playing.

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