Penguins' journey for elusive 'On switch'

geno.jpgOne of my biggest sports writing pet peeves – even if I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve most likely fallen into that habit before, and probably will again – is leaning on convenient, flimsy psychological factors to explain a team’s struggles.

Joe Thornton’s teams lose in the playoffs because he cannot handle the pressure … just look at that time he didn’t score any points against Montreal! (Sure, he was injured but let’s face it folks, he didn’t care.) Young Team of the Moment faltered in the playoffs because they didn’t have enough “experience,” not the fact that they’re facing a more talented, higher-seeded team. One of my favorite stereotypes has to be the fabled “Team thinks it can just find the on switch,” an argument usually trotted out when a seemingly talented team plays a series of flat games or struggles in the regular season.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reached for the light switch argument when discussing the thoroughly unacceptable fact that the Penguins generated an 0-fer against the Devils – and worse yet – the Washington Capitals. (Then again, the “on switch” material isn’t even the most ridiculous thing in the column. Collier used the phrase “twitch slapped” in the column. Yes, “twitch slapped.” Ain’t that a twitch.)

Instead of advancing  the point of the Penguins’ “indifference” why not lean on something a little more tangible like, say, fatigue? Only the Detroit Red Wings can relate to Pittsburgh’s last three years, with the Penguins (by my count) playing a staggering 287 games between these past 3 campaigns plus two maximum playoff runs – not to mention the Olympics. The main reason why this line of thought makes more sense to me is simple: by spending big bucks on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and other young players, they’ve had to skimp on depth more and more every year. Malkin, in particular, has shown what seems like telltale signs of wear-down – going from 82 games played and 113 points in 08-09 to 64 games played and 72 points so far this season.

Just look at the team’s inner-conference tormentors. The Capitals might be known for their star players, but they also have less-regarded depth players like Mike Knuble to carry the load. The Devils were able to add Ilya Kovalchuk to an already playoff quality team. These teams have had the salary cap flexibility to bolster their lineups while (with all due respect to Jordan Leopold, Mike Rupp and Alex Ponikarovsky) the Penguins have not.

Ultimately, you could chock up a team’s shortcomings to plenty of problems. But could it be that the Penguins are too tired or – hockey gods forbid – just not good enough? Or maybe we should just buy the team a set of powerful flashlights?

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    Not getting any easier: Slumping Avs take on the Bruins in Boston

    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Head Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche (C) looks on from the bench during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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    Losers of six straight, five of them in regulation, the Colorado Avalanche will be in tough again tonight.

    The Avs will be missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson when they take on the Bruins in Boston. Landeskog (lower body) is getting closer to a return, but he’s not ready yet. Johnson (broken leg) is going to be out a while longer.

    Meanwhile, the Avs’ season has been slipping away. They’re already 10 points back of a wild-card spot, and it’ll be hard to make up ground against a Boston team that’s gone six straight without losing in regulation.

    The Bruins fought back from a 3-0 deficit last night in Washington, where the Capitals eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

    The Avs, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 loss in Nashville. They played the Preds close, and had a strong push late, but ultimately couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne on any of their 13 third-period shots.

    “For me, that was the hardest we played — that was the best game we played in a couple weeks,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “We had some chances to square that game up.”

    Bednar, of course, was a late replacement for Patrick Roy, who abruptly resigned in August. The Avs started the season with three wins in their first four, but have gone 6-13-1 since, at times admitting they’ve been “awful.” 

    Read more: Deadline target? Iginla will ‘cross that bridge when it comes’

    The Avs play Saturday in Montreal then finish their road trip Sunday in Toronto. For Colorado’s sake, at least those two opponents have their own issues. The Canadiens are suddenly down two centers, while the young Maple Leafs are still learning how to win.

    Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will be significant favorites, even though they played last night on the road. Boston (15-10-2) has one of the best lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

    That’s the challenge facing the Avs, who better figure it out soon; otherwise, they’ll need a Christmas miracle to get back into the playoff race.

    Ducks waive Garbutt, a regular lineup fixture

    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Ryan Garbutt #16 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck ahead of Jarred Tinordi #28 of the Arizona Coyotes during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    Bit of a surprising move out of Anaheim today — gritty forward Ryan Garbutt has been placed on waivers.

    Garbutt, 31, had appeared in all 27 games for the Ducks this year, scoring two goals and three points while averaging 9:10 TOI per night. He was one of just 10 players on the roster to dress for every contest this season, though his minutes had decreased lately — he hasn’t cracked the 10-minute mark since Nov. 6, and received two of his lowest totals in recent games — 5:31 in a win over the Sharks on Nov. 26, and 5:50 in a win over Vancouver on Dec. 1.

    Last year, Anaheim acquired Garbutt in a midseason deal from Chicago. He performed well for the Ducks, scoring five goals and eight points in 37 games, and scored a goal in the club’s opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

    Garbutt is a polarizing player. Over a two-year span from 2014-15, he was one of the league’s most reckless players and found himself in a slew of disciplinary problems. He has gone a while without running afoul of the Department of Player Safety, though, so perhaps he heeded calls to change his game.

    Parting with Garbutt could be part of the youth movement that’s at play in Anaheim. Ondrej Kase, a seventh-round draft pick in 2014, is just one of the rookie forwards who’ve played for the Ducks this season. Joseph Cramarossa is another. Nick Ritchie isn’t a rookie, but he’s still on his entry-level deal.

    Garbutt is in the last of a three-year, $5.4 million deal with a $1.8M average annual cap hit. Given his experience and style of play, it’s possible he could be scooped off waivers.

    NHL won’t reconsider Golden Knights name, logo in wake of trademark issue

    LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 22:  Vegas Golden Knights apparel is displayed after being announced as the name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise at T-Mobile Arena on November 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The team will begin play in the 2017-18 season.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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    Last night, we passed along news that the Vegas Golden Knights trademark had been denied by the U.S. government, based on a “likelihood of confusion” with the NCAA’s College of St. Rose Golden Knights.

    Today, the NHL has responded with a statement from deputy commissioner Bill Daly:

    “We are currently reviewing the Trademark Office’s letter and will prepare a detailed response demonstrating why we continue strongly to believe the Vegas Golden Knights mark should be registered in co-existence with the college registration, just as a number of other nicknames currently co-exist in professional and college sports (particularly where there is no overlap as to the sport for which the nickname is being used).

    “That response is not due until June 7, 2017.

    “We consider this a routine matter and it is not our intention to reconsider the name or logo of this franchise. We fully intend to proceed as originally planned, relying on our common law trademark rights as well as our state trademark registrations while we work through the process of addressing the question raised in the federal applications.”

    Shortly after last night’s news broke, Sports Illustrated received this statement from the Las Vegas group:

    The timing of a potential resolution will be something to monitor. As mentioned above, the NHL has until June 7 to challenge the trademark denial — and the Vegas expansion draft is set for June 18-20.

    Related: There also might be some issues involving the Army

    The Lightning are getting healthier and ‘starting to figure things out’

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) celebrates his shootout goal against the Washington Capitals during an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
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    The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t played since Sunday, so they should be well-rested for tonight’s encounter with the Vancouver Canucks at Amalie Arena.

    This is another important game for the Bolts, who’ve won just once in their last six. A Stanley Cup contender in the eyes of many, Tampa Bay (14-11-2) is currently two points out of a playoff spot.

    While Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan remain out with injuries, the Lightning are expected to get a couple of key players back when defenseman Jason Garrison and forward Jonathan Drouin return against Vancouver.

    The Bolts already feel like they’ve turned the corner, after beating Washington in a shootout Saturday and earning a point Sunday in Carolina.

    “When you go through those streaks, it’s kind of like you’re going into games just waiting for something bad to happen,” forward Alex Killorn told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think we’ve kind of gotten over that. You’ve got to be the instigator, got to be the aggressor and take over games.”

    There’s definitely the potential for the Lightning to take over tonight’s game. The banged-up Canucks will enter without their two top defenseman, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and one of their best forwards, Jannik Hansen, among other injuries.

    Saturday brings a much tougher test when the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a visit.

    But tonight’s focus is the Canucks. The Lightning could really use the two points. They should get them. They just need to play like they can.

    “It’s a great opportunity for us to get back on track,” Killorn said. “We’re starting to figure things out.”