“The way we’re playing now, we’ll be out in the first round.”
Had that quote been uttered by Sal from Brookline in between two outdated rock tunes on Mark Madden’s drive-time show, no one would care. Unfortunately, it came directly from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
It’s been a rough week. The Penguins rolled over for the Detroit Red Wings and blew yet another lead against the Washington Capitals, all the while giving away more rubber than a free health clinic. Everyone is freaking out.
Even your dog is disgusted.
Oddly enough, the only ones who seem unfazed by the Penguins losing 6 of their last 8 games are the Penguins themselves.
“Maybe I’m in the minority here—I’m getting tired of hearing that we played hard and we should have deserved better,” Orpik told reporters in the wake of the team’s shootout loss to Washington.
Wow. When was the last time you heard a peep of discontent coming from the locker room? It is easy to take Orpik’s comments at face value and be concerned about the chance of a repeat Cup run. After all, the Penguins are a combined 0-9 this season against their closest competition in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals and New Jersey Devils.
That’s a big @!*#^ deal.
But there is much more to the story. For one, Orpik’s comments are shaped in part by his bitterly disappointing Olympic experience. Team USA “played hard and deserved better” against Canada in the gold medal game, and Orpik is probably tired of feeling patronized about how gosh-darn hard the Americans tried, and how he should feel proud about his silver medal. This isn’t Little League. That’s not how hockey players operate.
Unfortunately, Orpik is running into the same nauseating positivity in his own locker room. He feels that his teammates shouldn’t be all smiles after losing crucial games in the midst of a tight Atlantic division race with New Jersey. Fair enough. That’s solid veteran leadership.
However, as Penguins fans, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year in large part because of their ability to have collective amnesia about tough losses. Their friendship carried them through even the toughest moments.
Remember how you felt after Ovechkin’s hat trick put the Capitals up 2-games-to-none in the Eastern Conference Semifinals? Remember that helpless, sickening feeling you had as all those red hats came raining down?
You were using your Any Time Minutes to call all your buddies to tell them it was over.
Remember how you felt when the Red Wings chased Marc-Andre Fleury from the net at Joe Louis Arena in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals? That Saturday night, Pittsburghers fell asleep with visions of Steelers training camp dancing in their heads. By Friday, they were carrying tin-foil Stanley Cups through the South Side.
You went from this, to this.
The Penguins were able to pull themselves together while we were busy writing them off. Why? Because they have a sense of humor. Because, despite whatever happens on the ice on a particular night, they have one of the tightest locker rooms you will ever witness in sports.
Take last night for example. Guess who was by Evgeni Malkin’s side as he nervously accepted the 2009 Dapper Dan Sportsperson of the Year Award? His teammate Max Talbot. All you need to know about the strength of this team—from coach Dan Bylsma’s incredible ability as a motivator to Malkin’s immense heart—is right here in this video:
<iframe width=”480″ height=”289″ frameborder=”0″ src=”http://penguins.nhl.tv/team/embed.jsp?catid=19&id=63997″></iframe>
Feel free to question Malkin’s tenacity and Bylsma’s uncompromising, offensive-minded philosophy. I, for one, encourage it. The Penguins only seem to raise their game to another level when everyone outside of their locker room has given up hope. They thrive in the face of adversity.
No one knows that better than Orpik. Which is why his comments should be taken with a grain of salt. Some heard it as whispers of discontent, a sign that the locker room is weakening.
I heard a leader beating a war drum, trying to wake up the troops from their post-Olympics slumber.
Come playoff time, this team will be ready, motivated, and most importantly they have the horses to repeat. Let’s see how excited the Capitals are to play the Penguins in May.
Remember what happened last time? This guy needed his mummy.