Why are the Penguins struggling? It’s not Fleury; Crosby & Co. are to blame

Marc-Andre Fleury (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The big question mark coming into this series (other than, perhaps, how many games would it take for the Penguins to dispose of the Blue Jackets) was whether Marc-Andre Fleury could shake his recent playoff demons and take his team on a deep playoff run. And surely, after misplaying the puck to allow a late tying maker and letting in the OT-softy that has this series knotted at two, most will say he’s still haunted.

 

 

But if you’re looking to place blame, look at the big-name forwards in front of him first.

Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Bruins last year, where the Pens managed a total of two goals, the stars have once again gone AWOL: Sidney Crosby, zero goals. Evgeni Malkin, zero goals. James Neal, one goal.

It’s not surprising Pittsburgh is getting outworked in this series. The Blue Jackets are a blue-collar group that succeeds as much through determination as skill, while the Penguins have developed a teeth-grinding habit of turning it on only for short bursts (see the end of Game 3 for an example of that).

The Pens – led by Crosby and Malkin – came out like gangbusters in Game 4 and the result was a well-deserved 3-0 lead. But they failed to step on the neck when they had the chance and against a plucky, underrated bunch like Columbus – the result is almost predicable. Full credit to Columbus for not backing down and a huge kudos to Columbus coach for sticking with Sergei Bobrovsky when hockey logic dictated he give his goalie the hook. The Blue Jackets are not scared of the Penguins and with each game they are gaining confidence. That’s a bad sum for a fragile Penguins team.

The thinking was Fleury just needed not to lose in order for the Penguins to have success in the playoffs. But if the Penguins’ leaders can’t find – and keep – that extra gear, the only way they’ll get out of the first round is for their goalie to win some games on his own.