If you had to identify a Stanley Cup favorite right about now and you applied perspective and logic to the process, chances are the Penguins wouldn’t be the team you’d identify.
And that would be just fine with Dan Bylsma.
“Coaches worry about a lot of things,” Bylsma allowed prior to the Penguins’ hosting of the Phoenix Coyotes. “I can tell you the last couple years listening to the pundits and the people and the TV through the month of March and into April and you hear how you’re the best, the most favored, you’re a lock; if I knew how to program these TVs and shut them off so that we didn’t always hear that from everybody I would do it.
“If we’re not there right now I’m kinda glad I don’t have to shut the TV off a little bit and hear everyone say you’re a favorite, a lock, their pick, Final Four, whatever goes on on the TV shows and the talk.”
That was Bylsma’s perspective before he announced today that Evgeni Malkin would be out for two to three weeks with a foot injury, before the Penguins sunk a little bit deeper under the perceived radar, relatively speaking.
There was a time this season when a Boston-Pittsburgh Eastern Conference Final could be and was anticipated as all but inevitable.
The Penguins were considered the favorite and the Bruins the only team capable of challenging them back then.
The deck has reshuffled and the Eastern Conference is suddenly filled with would-be Cup contenders.
The Bruins have emerged as perhaps the class of the conference in the wake of the 12-game winning streak they had snapped on Monday night.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, like the Bruins, lost in a shootout on Monday night. But prior to that the Lightning had gone 5-1-4 in their last 10 games and Steven Stamkos had produced six goals and three assists for nine points in his last six games (Stamkos had understandably gone scoreless in his first three games upon returning from injury).
The Flyers got beat in regulation on Monday but prior to that they had won five in a row and their victims had included the Penguins (twice), the Blackhawks and the Blues.
And the Rangers climbed over the Flyers and into fifth in the conference on Monday via a 4-3 victory over the Coyotes, in part because New York had won 21 of its last 28 road games and was tied for first overall in road wins with 23. The Rangers also have goaltender Henrik Lundqvist setting franchise records for victories and shutouts, seemingly on a nightly basis.
That’s not to suggest the Penguins wouldn’t or couldn’t beat any of those teams in a postseason series.
But would you really consider the Penguins a lock against any of them right about now?
If you would, you probably haven’t factored in how injured the Penguins have been this season, how they’re still groping for the right combinations in the wake of all those injuries, and how they might continue to do so when and if injured players return.
It’s either that or you’ve decided the Penguins should win the Cup simply because they employ Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
If it’s the latter, that’s a mistake.
And if you’ve made that mistake you might want to reacquaint yourself with the difference between “aspirations” and “expectations” between now and the playoffs.
“We’re working and striving to be a better team right now in how we play,” Bylsma said. “(Sunday’s 1-0 loss to St. Louis) was a great test and indicator. That’s exactly the kind of game and team we want to play and expect it to be in playoff time.
“We came up short in that game. I think we can be better and do better. We’re still working toward that.”
In the meantime, “that’s fine if we don’t have that side talk on TV,” he said.
It’s at best an annoying distraction and at worst drastically inaccurate.