Insider Only Players needing to question effort level huge red flag, a bad trend that continues, leadership & more in Today’s TIOPSDailyFive


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1. The Penguins were playing with five defensemen again, had 17 skaters and were missing Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. Last night was never going to be about what the scoreboard said at the end.
What’s disturbing is you have a team that internally believes it’s a Stanley Cup team, at least Jim Rutherford believes so, and with five games now left in the regular season, you have veteran players, coaches on the team forced to blast the effort level.
Although the eye test last night obviously showed the Penguins did not work hard in the loss, it surely could have been written off as the Penguins were shorthanded, but the players afterwards made a story of it (effort level) and that’s a huge red flag that they feel it needs addressed this late in the season.
“We have to go out there and show the importance, show that we want to win and do it for each other,” Chris Kunitz said. “Tonight wasn’t a very good effort.”
Kunitz drop in play is among the Penguins growing issues and he’s among those that have been involved with some of the petty stuff behind the play, getting involved with Zac Rinaldo in the third period last night and some incidents a few weeks ago in games against Detroit and Dallas.
However, for a team just about to enter the playoffs and a team that has some uncertainty about them, a lack of effort level shouldn’t be something that has to be addressed this close to the playoffs.
The last Penguins team to be ravished by injuries with missing core players this late in the season was the 2010-2011 team. One thing you could say about that group is they worked their butts off.
Mike Johnston was critical of the effort level of the forwards last night. Who was he talking about?
Players individually are getting called out in the room, trust me on that, but Johnston might be reaching the point where it’s time to start mentioning some names in public as it’s been multiple times over the past couple weeks where he’s questioned the battle level of some players. Leaking names to the newspapers only goes so far.

crosbysss2. Sidney Crosby is not a Jonathan Toews, Mark Messier type leader where for whatever reason, teammates just don’t feed off him. That’s not a knock on Crosby, more so on his teammates I’d say but it continues to be a missing element. No one should be faulting Crosby’s effort level these days.
In a game where you’re playing shorthanded and your captain goes out and gets an early goal, the Penguins should have fed off that situation but it never happened.
While Crosby is criticized for being pretty robotic with his comments and some say his comments get stale with teammates, he’s saying the right things after games, it’s just not likely going to deliver with the group.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Crosby said. “Don’t think they did anything we didn’t expect. We were bad from start to finish. There’s no excuse for that. That was awful.”
When Mario Lemieux spoke, players immediately listened. Maybe it’s the new wave of players, but Crosby doesn’t have that type of presence in the room, those close to the situation have said in the past.
Since Bill Guerin was not brought back as a player after the 2009-2010 season, the Penguins have had a void in the room they haven’t replaced and Pascal Dupuis was the best answer to that void and he’s been desperately missed. Dupuis is that Guerin type in the room where teammates listen and feed off him. Being around as an injured player just isn’t the same as Dupuis isn’t involved in the heat of moments.

3. A disturbing trend all season for the Penguins has been taking too many penalties but most importantly, too many careless penalties. Last night was not an emotional game by any means. What plagued the Penguins was lazy stick penalties.
David Perron took a bad interference penalty against Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the neutral zone on the backcheck, Steve Downie had a tripping penalty in the neutral zone.
Lazy stick penalties in the offensive, neutral zones are the worst to take.
“Too many bad penalties and it’s been a recurring theme recently and it’s something we have to work on,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
“Cause we’re under staffed doesn’t mean we can take five penalties,” Sidney Crosby said.
A great penalty kill has hid a lot of warts for the Penguins this season but they’re playing a dangerous game for when they get into a seven game series. The Penguins also had a great penalty kill in 2011-2012 (87.8%, #3 in NHL) and we saw how that played out in the post-season.

4. Jim Rutherford’s comments to the Tribune-Review Monday about dressing five defensemen for the foreseeable future. “We feel comfortable where we’re at,” Rutherford said. “It’s not like we get backed into a corner, where all of a sudden we’re down to three defensemen.”
Mike Johnston also put a good spin on it after Wednesday’s game but he’s not going to throw the front office under the bus. The situation the Penguins are in should be deemed unacceptable by those above Rutherford. The way the Penguins are forced to tax their defensemen just before the playoffs, many of whom are No. 6 types, including one that is 36 years old, is unacceptable.
The real issue, though, was just before the Penguins ran into this situation. Management not leaving enough room for callups even before the five ‘D’ fiasco has hamstrung their ability to bring up youthful energy from Wilkes Barre at the forward position for at least a look or to push a player or two. The Penguins really might not have their Best-12 forwards on the current roster.

Beau Bennett is a lost soul on the ice, his effort is being questioned behind the scenes from the staff, to go with he’s playing with two knee braces and is down to around 180 pounds.
Yet, the Penguins can’t bring up a Farnham, or a Wilson to see if they can provide some life into the bottom-6. Management failed this group with the cap before the Letang and Ehrhoff injuries.

5. The Steelers off-season has stayed the course with the blueprint of the Steelers Way. Resign your own, add cheap low risk players.
The Steelers yesterday resigned defensive end Clifton Geathers who was signed on December 1 due to Brett Keisel’s injury. He was inactive for the four regular season games and lone playoff game.
He’s a body at this point who the Steelers have liked for a few seasons and certainly feel he could win a spot in camp.
The intriguing decision on the d-line will be what the Steelers do with Cam Thomas and Geathers could be the type to win a spot over Thomas. The Steelers were trying to sign Geathers last off-season over Thomas before Geathers signed with the Redskins where he didn’t last long.
Many anticipated the Steelers releasing Thomas at the start of the new league year, which began March 11, but there’s been support from the coaching staff to keep Thomas around and battle for a spot.

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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