Phoenix Coyotes v Pittsburgh Penguins

Pressing question: How much pressure is on the Pens?


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.

Bruins’ second line officially goes under the microscope

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While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.

Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronLoui Eriksson
Matt BeleskeyDavid KrejciDavid Pastrnak
Jimmy HayesRyan SpoonerBrett Connolly
Chris KellyJoonas KemppainenZac Rinaldo

The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.

So, where is Krejci’s game now?

Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.

So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?

On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.

So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?

“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”

Lucic: If I wanted to hurt Couture, ‘I would have hurt him’


Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.

Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.

This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.

“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”

While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”

And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.

Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.

In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.

Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks