Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On the Pittsburgh Penguins Complete Meltdown

Losing is part of being a fan. It's what we sign up for when we decide to give a shit about the athletic exploits of this sports team or that. When you become a fan, you expect to be entertained, hit some high notes and also have moments of deep despair following particularly painful losses. Every fan has a running list of the worst losses of his or her life. It's just part of the package.

If you find yourself walking around in Boston, grab a random person and ask about the worst losses she can remember. I'll betcha she names the 2003 Red Sox or the Patriots loss in SB XLII. If you're in Cleveland, I hope you have some coffee or something, because the list of disappointing losses may be longer than what you bargained for.

Pittsburgh fans have enjoyed some terrific teams, but ask most Pittsburgh fans to name the worst losses they've lived through and I know the Steelers loss to the San Diego Chargers in the 1995 (following the 1994 season) AFC Championship game comes up pretty close to the top.

That has been at the top of my list since, well, since 1995, when it topped both the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins loss in the first round, which loss had topped the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates losing to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.

Looking back on it, the early to mid-1990's were not a good time. And I didn't even reference the freakish popularity of Ace of Base.

At any rate, those three losses have ruled the top of the charts as it were, for nearly two decades. Enter the 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins -- No. 1 with a bullet.

What has happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins in three games against the Philadelphia Flyers is uncharted territory for me, so bear with me here.

Losing I can take. Losing I can handle. It's not fun and it's not comfortable and sometimes a really bad loss (see above) takes a few days, or even a few weeks, to recover from. Yet, through all of those excruciating losses and even through the malaise of just mundane boring teams --  for example, 1980's Steelers, what I like to think of as, "the Steelers are losin', so we're boozin'" era -- I was always proud to be a fan.

In the aftermath of the Penguins complete and total meltdown on Sunday, not so much. What fans saw on the Philadelphia ice on Sunday was a team that had just lost it -- they lost their sense of identity as much as lost their way. They were chippy, they were cheap, and they played like a bunch of punks.

I realize that this has been a particularly violent, embarrassing round of playoffs across the NHL. Which was worse? Shea Weber smashing Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass in the Nashville-Detroit series? Carl Hagelin elbowing Daniel Alfredsson in the head in the Rangers-Senators series? Or Aron Asham going completely apeshit on Brayden Schenn after a legal check? (Answer -- all of them were heinous.)

But it wasn't just Asham on Sunday. The entire team melted down. Kris Letang, who is not the best player suited up in a Penguins sweater, but might be the most important, was tossed from the game. James Neal came unglued (and probably should have been ejected.) Harvard's Craig Adams pulled Scott Hartnell by the coid. Sid got himself involved in a fight. It was just a mess.

It stinks to be a Penguins fan right now, not because the team is down 0-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers, but because that was one rotten flightless waterfowl out there, no matter how you look at it.

Losing a series, even getting swept, is a possibility you sign up for. It's part of life. It's a risk you take.

This is worse. I don't really think that a team can sink lower than the Penguins have by proving known miscreant and cement-head Mike Millbury right. Dark days, indeed, when the Penguins lend credibility to John Tortorella, a guy with as much likeability as an insurance company lawyer. Isn't ceding the moral high ground to the Flyers the same as losing the moral high ground to Dick Cheney? It doesn't get much lower than that, my friends.

It all leaves me wondering what the Penguins can do on Wednesday night. Turns out, the answer is really very simple. They can go out and play with some dignity and respect. They can check hard, but clean, try to eliminate all the foolish passes, block shots on the penalty kill, get some movement on the power play, actually play some defense in front of Flower and try to win the game. (Right now, I feel a little bit like Reggie Dunlop before the last game for the Chiefs.)

If they Penguins can do that and win, that's a bonus. But even if they play their game, play good hockey and they still lose? For me, that will be okay. It'll be their first steps towards redemption.

1 comment:

  1. I agree entirely; I wish the Pens would have just lost honorably. What they have done makes me embarrassed to be a fan.