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Pressing question: How much pressure is on the Pens?

Apr 16, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

Phoenix Coyotes v Pittsburgh Penguins Getty Images

One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

Here’s the list of teams Pittsburgh has defeated in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009:

Ottawa Senators
New York Islanders

End of list.

The lack of wins over quality opponents — neither the Sens nor Isles are in the playoffs this year — speaks to a larger issue facing the entire Penguins organization, prior to what could be the most important postseason in franchise history:

Over the last five years, the Pens’ playoff exits have defined them far more than any of their wins.

There was running into the Halak wall in 2010. The defensive meltdown against Philly in ’12. The offense seizing up like an engine with no oil against Boston last year. For a team that looked to be on the cusp of a dynasty after beating Detroit five years ago, the playoffs have become vexing — something few expected to see.

“Given the guys that I played with on the ’09 team, you’d think that they were going to be a perennial Cup candidate,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

“Just because you have a team on paper that looks like it’s going to blow the doors off the playoffs doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You have to come together at the right time and for a long time. As much as you think this team would have had more wins, it’s not shocking. It’s a hard time of year to win.”

Yes, it is a hard time of the year to win. But one has to wonder what happens if the Penguins don’t.

Head coach Dan Bylsma will undoubtedly come under fire — again — should Pittsburgh flop. Rumors flew after last year’s sweep to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, with one report claiming owner Mario Lemieux was mulling over a coaching change, followed by another suggesting the Rangers were ready to pounce if Bylsma was let go.

Marc-Andre Fleury will also be under the microscope. Replaced by Tomas Vokoun midway through last year’s opening-round victory over the Isles, Fleury rebounded this regular season and posted great numbers, but that’s done little to shake his playoff reputation. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, Fleury isn’t the goalie that backstopped Pittsburgh to the Cup in ’09; he’s the one that followed up an awful series against Philly two years ago by getting yanked last year.

So, how does Fleury deal with it all?

“Not read too much. Not watch [TV],” he said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And remind myself that I have won one more Stanley Cup than a lot of people.”

Like Bylsma, Fleury’s future could hinge on this postseason. He’s heading into the final of a seven-year, $35 million deal and it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh re-signing him after another playoff disappointment.

Others are in a similar boat. Longtime defenseman Brooks Orpik, who’s spent all 11 of his NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, is a pending UFA. Same goes for Matt Niskanen, who’s played the last four years with the Pens. It’s all part the overall theme of pressure — along with the weight of expectations comes the added weight of uncertain futures, possibly hinging on how the Pens do this spring.

“This team has had the weight of expectation on them for a long time,” Scuderi explained. “It’s something you just have to learn how to deal with. Those are mostly kind of outside sources putting the pressure on you.

“You just have to be able to shut it out and play your game.”

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

  1. pitpenguinsrulez - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    Unless you are the Pirates, teams like the Steelers and Penguins are expected to be contenders and win championships. The two post seasons were a disaster. This years playoffs are pivotal. They have no excuse to not advance past Round 1. They can’t give Columbus any hope by allowing to win either Games 1 or 2. Out of the past 4 post seasons, I see this one being the one with the most amount of pressure. Hopefully they can put the demons of post seasons past to rest by winning it all.

    • bgrillz - Apr 16, 2014 at 3:29 PM

      You know expectations are really high, when you lose in the eastern conference finals, and it’s called a disaster! I think there are probably 14 other teams that would love to experience that kind of disaster.

  2. jobotjones - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    They’re not being picked to win it all as much as recent years which is good, but they also need to step it up about 4 notches to impress everyone and make it to the SCF.

  3. c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Penguins have won 3 more series in the past 4 years than most teams.

    With great expectations come great pressure. I would much rather my team have this pressure, than what some other teams have…”Awesome, we made it!”.

  4. stakex - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    “Fleury rebounded this regular season and posted great numbers”

    No he didn’t. I have no idea why the hockey media insists on proclaiming Fleury played great this year… his 2.37 GAA (16th) and lackluster .915 S% (24th) are not great numbers. They are actually middle of the pack kind of numbers. The only stat he has that is “great” is in the win column, which is not a stat that reflects how well a goalie actually played.

    • JoeAvg - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      Another example of the folly of just going by stats. Good goalies make the save when it’s needed most. In fact, I’d argue that the W is the best stat to go by. If your goalie gives up one goal on the ten shots your team allowed while you scored three in that time – what’s the difference?

      Grant Fuhr was a fabulous netminder and his stats were always “middle of the pack” for his era (they’d be crap today). But when the game was on the line and they needed the big save, he made it. That’s the goalie I want on my team.

      Anybody who’s watched MAF this year will tell you that his game is different than it was. He’s been more focused and in better position to make the save than he used to be. The only outstanding question is the mental aspect going into the playoffs. His regular season has been fine and, at times, outstanding.

    • bmscalise - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:42 PM

      On the contrary – stats only say so much. Fleury helped eek out wins for a team that was absolutely decimated by injuries, particularly on defense. The Pens played over half the season without their top-2 d-men and a significant stretch without their entire top-4.

      No other team since the lock-out has made it to the post-season having faced anywhere close to the number of man-games-lost that the Pens have, let alone won their division. And those of us that watch the team play every game know that Fleury has had a very good regular season. With this number of injuries and a lesser goalie, the Pens lose likely 5-10 more games and the division.

    • joey4id - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:52 PM

      😊 And there you go again blowing smoke. You’ve got to put Fleury’s numbers in context. He played extremely well and has very good numbers despite losing more than 500 man games to injury.

      That said, whether he plays better than he did last year in the playoffs remains to seen.

      • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:19 PM

        oh ok mr statistical evidence.

    • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      its all part of their conspiracy to rip him down again in the playoffs….

      MAF posted the same numbers he always does. lots of wins, and solid SV% and GAA numbers. nothing new at all there, exactly what we expect. look at his career numbers and its right on par.

      Wins do indicated how goaltender plays i mean, if thats not an indicator im not sure what is. lots of factors go into SV% and GAA its not cut and dry but wins and losses are. and he has more of them in recent history than anybody else by a good margin.

    • hockey412 - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      GAA is ‘eh’. His save percentage is just fine. Same as Quick’s. It’d be enough to win the cup. The Vezina…no. But the cup, yes.

      I guess if you’re debating whether he “posted great numbers”, ok I’d agree they aren’t “great”, but I’d debate also that they are “lackluster”

  5. runhigh24 - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Niskanen and Orpik are more than likely gone regardless of how they play in the post season. Other teams will covet their respective skill sets and no need for the Penguins to get into a bidding war when they have a bunch of capable D-men in the system. That money would be better spent at forward.

    • JoeAvg - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      I think you let Orpik go in order to keep Niskanen. But it will be strange seeing those unblinking eyes starring out from under a different color helmet.

      • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        letting Orpik go will be a mistake. way way way too much of a leader and locker room presence. still plays at a high level and will probably be cheaper than Nisky.

        nisky can get way above his value on the open market right now. can probably get 5 mil a year. hes worth 3.5 in reality.

        better off trading paul martin and replacing him via combo of niskanen, maatta, and pouliot. i think niskanen will sign here for a little less than he could get on open market, as he has said many times he really likes it here because the penguins staff helped him get over his younger years and reach his potential.

        martin could bring a high pick and prospect at the least. shedding that 5 mil salary for its last year, although martin is worth it and is really good, could turn out to be a great move with the depth on D right now.

      • JoeAvg - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:10 PM

        Must be nice for Shero to have these problems, huh?

        I didn’t mean to imply that I want Orpik to go – quite the contrary. I just think they’re gonna have to. Niskanen stays ’cause he has the benefit of being younger and Martin because he has really become a major cog in the wheel. Orpik’s role can be assumed by Scudari who’s already under contract. Not sure Pouliot is ready yet.

        My 2 cents anyway. Time will tell.

      • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:14 PM

        lol oh no man. not trying to just argue with you, but thats not right.

        lets ignore the fact that i think scuderi has been a complete waste of money so far and maybe he should even be bought out…. i cant even remember the last time he threw a body check. such different players that you cant say he would assume Orpik’s role.

        martin’s role however can be assumed by other guys, probably most notably Maatta. similar styles.

        all reports on Pouliot are that he is as mature as he is talented. had a big role on team canada’s junior team this year, a great season in Juniors and is a leader for his team like Maatta was. he will at the very least be splitting time next year between NHL and AHL.

      • hockey412 - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:21 PM

        I’m all for showing Martin the door in order to keep either Niskanen or Orpik. Plus I’m tired of the team watching assets walk away for nothing.

  6. kastout11 - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Columbus is a really scary team, although Horton just got hurt and will not play in the series. They do have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner from last year between the pipes. I see the Penguins advancing, but do not sleep on the Blue Jackets. Being a Flyers fan and watching Bobrovsky win the Vezina a year after the Flyers gave up on him was disheartening. I have followed his brief career and he is a little inconsistent, but when he is hot, he is virtually unbeatable, but I guess that is the case for every world class goaltender.

  7. dropthepuckeh - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Isn’t the current postseason always the most important in franchise history? Unless a team is facing relocation or big deal ownership change I can’t imagine any historical postseason meaning more than the current one.

    I think Pittsburgh wins this series easily – 4-0 or 4-1. The real pressure will come against Philly/ NYR.

    • JoeAvg - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

      I don’t worry too much about the Rangers – but Philly’s a different story. Somehow that team figured out how to get so far under the Pens skin that they’ve reached the brain. Funny thing is that never used to be that way (see 2008 & 2009). I’ve often wondered if Max Talbott didn’t share a secret or two while he was there on how to drive certain star players off of their game.

      Just a thought. Go Rags.

  8. joey4id - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    Everyone is a little nervous in the Pitt organization. There is a lot of pressure on Bylsma. He’s got to have a good run otherwise he might be gone. Crosby and Malkin are under the microscope because they have to be better than they were vs the Bs last year. Fleury is under a ton of pressure to be better in this post season than he was last year. Finally, Jacques Martin and his whole defensive system has to be better.

    • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      in the organization? didnt realize you were on that level with the Pens staff and players.

      threw me for a loop on the Jacques Martin comment. not sure what he has to do with it but the Penguins owned the leagues 6th best defense.

      see how i did that. facts. isnt that what you taught me? db.

      • joey4id - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        I didn’t have to be in the White House to assess that a certain gov’t administration was run by a bunch of thugs.

        I suppose my superior knowledge and experience in hockey gives me insight into the dynamics of an organization and how things work on the inside. Clearly something you don’t possess.

        PSST. just between you and I, the 82 game schedule is over in case you haven’t caught up with the latest news.

        Who cares that they finished 6th if they get bounced early? You think their job is done because they made the playoffs? You think the a best of 7 is like playing 4 games in 8 nights? You’re obviously one of those illiterate hockey commenters I constantly refer to. Right? db

      • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:42 PM

        haha, please tell me joey what your experience is in the game of hockey that makes you so superior and knowledgable? i would really like to know because you reference it a lot and act like nobody else is on your level.

        if you want to know exactly what my hockey experience is ill tell you but it doesnt make me any different really than anybody on here – all opinions, all from outside the locker rooms, the meeting rooms, the rink…none of us are there. so while some might be a little more accustomed to the game than others and might have more grounded opinions than others, nobody here is any more superior than any other. which is why i dont act like a DB and go around saying “im superior and knowledgable and your all hockey illiterate” despite the fact that ive been playing, coaching, and watching hockey since i was 3 years old. thats 24 years, fyi and i sometimes have serious doubts that your life has spanned even that long, let alone 2/3 that long.

      • joey4id - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:48 PM

        I couldn’t care less about what experience you have. Matter of fact I don’t care much about you or what you think. db

      • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:53 PM

        Previous comments would indicate otherwise.

        Besides, I asked you a direct question. If your going to keep claiming superior experience you should just go ahead and tell us all what it is, right?

        Or are you keeping it a secret? Shhhhhh….

  9. jkulha86 - Apr 16, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    I’ve been a life long Penguins fan, and as long as Dan Bylsma is the coach this team is going to under-achieve every year. They won the cup with Therrien’s players and style of play. Since winning the cup his team has failed to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, and his team choked big time in the Olympics. The guy is just a good regular season coach.

    • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      no, they didnt and i wish people would stop saying that.

      dan byslma was the coach. he coached the team to a stanley cup after they had fallen all the way to 11th place in the standings in February. if you think he did that by coming in and saying “alright boys, we arent changing a thing. just go win!”

      than you have done a great job of being a fan all these years but a poor job of being an acute observer.

  10. pensfan1 - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    I agree with stakex. MAF is a middle of the road goalie that does not always pull the W out. The team has pulled a lot of W out in front and in cover for him. You still get the W when the goalie gives up four or five al long as the rest of the team scores five or six. And when the goalie needs to be his best (in the post season) his stats show he is somewhere else. Blowout numbers against in the ’12 Philly series and what, two shutouts against in the Boston series? He needs to be there when the team is only scoring one or two by pitching the shutout or one hitter. It’s harder to win when the team is playing catch-up. No points for a tie in the playoffs like the end of the season was. Goal against and you lose.

    And don’t forget – Zatkoff got 12 of those man-game shortened wins. Not all are MAF. But he’s not around for the playoffs. 51 team wins – 25% of them belong to JZ.

    • c9castine - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:51 PM

      1st, thats all good and well but we didnt have to score 6 goals a game. team had the 6th ranked goals against squad despite being 10th in the league in shots against per game. that tells me the goaltending was more responsible for that 6 ranking than the defense itself. also, 5th ranked offense…so while we were still scoring a lot, its not like we blew the league away and were scoring 4-6 goals a game.

      2nd, he didnt play against boston not sure what your saying there.

      3rd, thats the case for most goaltending situations. starters dont play every game, and good teams are good teams unless the backup is winning as well. also not sure what your saying there.

  11. muckleflugga - Apr 16, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    i would have picked penguins to go as far any meeting with either of bruins, canadiens or wings … the good ship pittsburgh foundering on the rocks of superior collective skill and speed in all three instances

    meeting jackets round one has bad jujub written all over it … lose either of game one or two and it’ll be time to catch-up on pirates

    going out first round is what is really needed in pittsburgh … the house needs a cleaning top down … bring in some hockey men with gifts beyond relying solely on the game by game whimsy of sid and geno

    shero and bylsma don’t have it … one would think that was painfully obvious to mario by now … the olympics disaster and getting schoooooled by canada yet again

    my word, what else does he need

    forget trying to compete in the bash and crash east … go all out to enhance advanced skill hockey … wings show the way time and again, without lottery blessings

    begin by returning orpik to the san diego zoo … lose ham-handed clowns like tanner glass … model your defence around letang and find more of his kind, rare as they are

    look to detroit for hope

  12. phillyphannnn83 - Apr 16, 2014 at 6:43 PM

    Funny how last year Pens fans ridiculed us Flyers fans when we mentioned our man-games lost. Now, there’s not a single Pens article that doesn’t contain that same complaint by those same Pens fans.

    That would be the definition of “hypocrite.”

    • bmscalise - Apr 16, 2014 at 7:14 PM

      Last year the Flyers had 262 MGL, or and estimated 447 over the course of a full season. And I’m sure that includes Pronger, who was never going to play and had been replaced before the season started. Of course the injuries contributed to the disaster that was last year’s Flyers team.

      That said, the Pens had 529 MGL this year – and they made the playoffs in spite of it. That’s impressive.

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