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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    Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

    One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

    It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

    Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

    The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

    “In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

    In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

    Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

    BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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    From the NHL:

    refs

    Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

    Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

    After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

    Now he knows.

    “First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

    The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

    More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

    It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

    Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

    “The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

    Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

    Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

    SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

    RTV Slovenia has the story here.

    The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

    The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

    Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

    Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

    Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win