The Pens and the Curse of Changing Expectations
The reactions and fallout from both Pens fans and scribes varied a bit after the unexpected sweep from the Eastern Conference Finals at the hands of the Boston Bruins last spring. The clamoring for large scale change rung far and wide that had fans calling for Head Coach Dan Blysma’s head on a platter and jettisoning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to parts unknown using any method available to General Manager Ray Shero’s disposal among other “blow it up and start again” knee jerk reactions. In fact, Shero himself didn’t escape the shark jumpers and over analyzers this time as his deadline acquisitions had impacted the roster negatively for the stretch run in the eyes of some.
When decisions were made to retain the services of Bylsma and Fleury and extending free agents or near free agents Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis it had become a cap crunching summer for the Penguins. All things considered many began to believe with the constraints due to a lower league salary cap that the Pens would be icing a slightly weaker team for the 2013-14 season.
By most counts, the fans were generally alright with this. The hope was that some younger players in the organization would get an opportunity to play and improve as the season went along. Most were prepared, and alright with, for a few more regular season losses than accustomed to in exchange for a hopefully stronger and deeper team come playoff time.
Instead what happened was that despite an obviously sub par bottom six forward group and MASH unit for the ages, the Pens still won a substantial amount of their games of the strength of their top two lines and took control of a largely pedestrian Metropolitan Division. Because of this, external expectations began to change.
Stanley Cup or Bust became the prevailing sentiment amongst the paying customer again while simultaneously noting the obvious weaknesses within the Penguins roster, and bench according to some. All while recognizing the Bruins and 4-5 teams in the Western Conference would lay waste to these currently constructed Penguins if they even make it through the first two playoff rounds.
Truthfully, the Penguins are facing another disappointing exit from the playoffs if a vast majority of the most important injured players don’t return by the playoffs. But the reactions of the last few weeks when the seemingly endless parade of injuries have finally caught up with the team are thanks to that change in expectations.
Come April, instead of taking that beardless picture to compare yourself with your end game playoff beard, consider taking note of your vitals, and perhaps your triglycerides as well. The Captain is speaking, buckle up, we’re about to hit some turbulence about a few weeks ahead. Enjoy the ride.