A Penguin not named Sid needs to score
PITTSBURGH -- The "I May Never Score Again Club" has rarely boasted so many members among the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup, and its numbers seem to grow with each passing playoff game. Never a particularly encouraging sign in the postseason.
Since the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals, only two different Penguins have scored goals -- defenseman Mark Eaton and captain Sidney Crosby -- and it's one of the major factors in the Penguins' current 2-0 series deficit with Game 3 slated to go Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
The rest of the talented Penguins squad? Well, you can start with dry and go right to arid.
Walk into the Penguins' practice facility Tuesday and you expected tumbleweeds to blow past you as you were talking to players. Not sure, but there appeared to be a small herd of camels chewing on an old puck in the corner after the team held an optional skate.
Where to start?
Eaton's three playoff goals are more than any other defenseman on the team, including star Sergei Gonchar, who has one postseason goal and just one goal in his past 18 games. Eaton's three tallies are also more than that of all of the team's forwards except Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That's nice for Eaton, but bad for the rest of the Penguins.
Speaking of Malkin, well, there was interesting theater here Tuesday afternoon with the NHL's regular-season scoring champ, who is apparently already feeling the pinch of playoff nerves in the second round. As Malkin sauntered through the locker room, reporters moved toward him. As soon as he saw he might be required to speak, he picked up speed and headed for the team's off-limits changing area with Penguins PR staff member Jennifer Bullano in hot pursuit. Bullano did her best to coral the erstwhile scoring stud, but he disappeared behind the door with a big grin on his face.
It was a lighthearted moment, but the upshot was that Malkin, who has not scored in five straight games and took a careless offensive penalty that allowed the Capitals to score the go-ahead goal in the third period of Game 2, refused to return and address the media.
"I think Geno's creating a lot," Crosby said later. "The fact is, when you don't get on the score sheet as much or things don't go the right way, it's easy to point the finger. He puts one in last night and nobody's talking about him. There's a fine line."
Crosby, however, represents the lone, shining example of a Pittsburgh forward who seems to have found the right side of that fine line.
"It's playoffs and you need everybody," Crosby said. "We can't expect Geno to score every game or myself to score every game. It's really a collective effort. It's up to us to do our part for sure, but I think he's working to get chances. The opportunities are there.
"It's the playoffs, it's tight, there's going to be times where it's a little bit difficult, but it's all about what you can do the next time and he's got to keep going."
Malkin is an easy target in part because he remains largely silent and unapproachable. But this is a Penguins team that defeated the Flyers in a stirring comeback in Game 6 in the first round, in large part because they received contributions from throughout the lineup, including Malkin. But those kinds of contributions have been rare for most of this postseason and nonexistent in what has been a wildly exciting second round.
Jordan Staal, who scored 22 times during the regular season, has now gone 10 straight games without a goal and has only one assist in the playoffs.
Ruslan Fedotenko, most often paired with Malkin, finished the season on a tear, but has only one goal this postseason.
Petr Sykora, a healthy scratch at the end of the first round, is back in the lineup, but may be the poster boy for the "I May Never Score Again Club." After registering 10 game-winners during the regular season and being a dangerous part of one of the Penguins' top two lines last season, Sykora has just two goals in his past 23 contests.
By comparison, Capitals checking center David Steckel has two goals in this series so far. They may not have been pretty, but they were instrumental in the Capitals' winning two one-goal games at home to put the Penguins in an unusual playoff position (at least this early in the postseason), having to fight for their lives.
"I mean, you definitely do need [scoring depth], but I think when teams and players start to press for it, that's when it doesn't come," Guerin said Tuesday. "And bottom line, if nobody else scores another goal and Sid has every single goal the rest of the way through and we win, that's good."
True, but it's unlikely that will happen.
And here's the problem: As the Penguins face what is essentially a do-or-die situation in Game 3 (win or be down 3-0 and admit the series is lost), do players try and do too much?
"It's not a bad thing if you press as long as you press in the right way," said forward Matt Cooke, who has two assists in the playoffs. "We need to press the issue in shooting everything we can at the net. We need to press the issue in getting bodies at the net. We need to press the issue in second, third, fourth efforts everywhere around the ice.
"Pressing the issue can't mean for this group to go out and try and do things one on one because, most times, you're not going to be successful."
It is clear, however, the lack of productivity throughout the lineup is starting to take its toll.
"Yeah, it's obviously frustrating at times," Staal said. "They don't need me to score goals to win games, but at the same time, it'd be nice to chip in every once in a while and get some offense going.
"Our line obviously hasn't been that great this series and we obviously want to turn it around and play more in the offensive zone and get momentum for our team."
If there is one lesson to be learned from Crosby's efforts in this series, it's this: One of the ways the Penguins can find success against star rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov is from in close.
Crosby scored three times in Game 2, all from close in off rebounds. On the third goal, Crosby had two or three whacks at the puck and finally batted it in out of mid-air.
"It's not so much being patient, either," Guerin said. "You see where he's scoring his goals from and they're all within two feet of the net. He's obviously a kid with a lot of courage, a lot of heart. He goes to the hard places to score his goals. They're not all highlight goals."
It's a lesson, if learned, that may finally start to see the number of members of that hated MNSA club start to finally dwindle for the Penguins. If not? Well, never is a long time, no?
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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