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Mike Prisuta's Sports Page

"Reliable" Works If Everyone's Accountable

 

 

Sidney Crosby described them as “reliable guys.”

Had they been blind-date candidates he might well have characterized Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak as having “great personalities.”

No one, from Ray Shero on down, has assessed 2014’s deadline-day acquisitions as “game-changers.”

That doesn’t mean they can’t contribute.

But in the end the difference the contributions of Goc and Stempniak make for the Penguins is going to depend mostly on what the Pens are getting from their incumbents, especially the big-ticket headliners.

Ravaged as they are by injuries (with Tomas Vokoun, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett all sidelined they’re a mere center away from an All-Shelf Team), the Penguins are going to have to approach the playoffs a bit differently this season.

They’re not in a position to simply expect to overwhelm opponents with talent, as they are too often perceived to be entering a postseason.

They’re going to have to play a more traditional style this time and they’re going to have to do so consistently to succeed.

They’re going to have to battle, grind and compete, shift after shift, game after game, series after series, the way most mere mortal playoff combatants chase the Stanley Cup each spring.

They’re going to have to be disciplined individually and structurally sound collectively.

They’re going to have to win battles and back-check and get pucks and bodies to the net as if their playoff lives are at stake.

There’s a pretty good chance they would have had to do some at some point even if healthy.

The injuries have removed any confusion as to the necessity of playing the game the right way.

If they can do that often enough and their star power can periodically shine because of it (Crosby’s breakaway against Sweden in Sochi is a classic example of what they'll be after when applicable), the Penguins will have a shot to accomplish something significant this spring.

The potential returns of Martin and/or Bennett and anyone else who may yet present themselves as available would help.

But such alterations wouldn’t change the manner in which the Pens are going to have to go about their business if they expect to seriously contend for another Cup.

And if Marc-Andre Fleury ends up on the bench again, it’s going to be a problem.

If Evgeni Malkin continues to take defensive shifts off or the periodic bad penalty, it’s an issue.

If Crosby and Malkin go MIA in terms of scoring goals in an entire series, it’ll be a deal-breaker, as it was a season ago.

What the Pens appear to be shooting for in terms of honing a game that will give them their best chance for success in the postseason given what they’ll have available in the postseason is a happy medium between the Gretzky Oilers and the Brodeur Devils.

Or, as legendary former New Jersey head coach Tommy McVie once observed of the Devils’ objectives during a 1990-91 first-round series against the Pens: “If there’s (expletive) two nets at each end (expletive) put the puck in one and (expletive) keep it out of the other.”

It’s often no more mystical than that (it’s also a lot less colorful now that McVie is no longer coaching).

Goc and Stempniak can do their part toward that end, but they can only do their part.

Everyone else is going to have to do the same.

 

 

 

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