Last season didn't end well for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Philadelphia Flyers. It would be an understatement to describe it as a bitter disappointment after the first round beat down at the hands of their biggest rival.
This defenseless showing after bowing out in the first round in grand choking fashion blowing a three games to one series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning with two home games left.
Fans and media were quick to blame Marc-Andre Fleury's performance as below the Stanley Cup standard in losses to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia but that would be to ignore other factors like the roster construction by General Manager Ray Shero, coaching by Dan Bylsma, and the other 22 players on the roster for each of those teams.
Blaming the goalie is the Pittsburgh thing to do, much like it is to blame Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the team's struggles while an aging defense continually fails to make a play.
For Fleury, it is nothing new.
As for new backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun, he must be wondering what he got himself into as he's struggled to post adequate numbers in the crease but as people point about the 16 goals against in two and a half periods of play over three games played, little do they mention he's seen 93 shots in those games.
Vokoun has to be better for this team to keep Fleury fresh and ready for a long run but to think the 18 skaters who have taken shifts in front of the goal on a nightly basis are doing enough to limit the scoring chances and open shots, think again.
During the regular season last year, Penguins finished 17th with a 2.66 goals against average but they've dropped to 20th at 2.91 through the first 22 games.
In the playoffs against the Flyers, they gave up 5 goals per game.
There's a segment of the fan base and myself that believe part of the defensive problems are the direct result of Bylsma's system. If they are not perfect in the execution of 'Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey', teams are able to counter-attack on the turnovers and get quality scoring chances.
But let's say coaching isn't the problem, that leaves the man in charge of building the roster and the players themselves.
Is anyone really thinking Shero hasn't given a coach enough to win with Fleury and Vokoun in goal supported by veteran defensemen Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Matt Niskanen, and Deryk Engelland, plus youngsters Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo?
Shero added to the group by signing free agent Mark Eaton.
The missing ingredient is a big strong defenseman who can clear the net and be that physical presence that has been lacking for the team.
Not sure many coaches would be questioning their GM that hands over a roster sheet of forwards lead by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass, and Craig Adams.
The team has mixed in others like Dustin Jeffrey and Zach Boychuk, while now giving former first round pick Beau Bennett a chance to establish himself as a top six forward.
Just like the defense, Shero would be wise to find a veteran winger who can play a top six role but at the stage of his career willing to play on the third line.
You've heard the names like Dallas Stars left-wing Brenden Morrow and San Jose Sharks left-wing Ryane Clowe but with Kunitz, Bennett, Cooke, and Glass seemingly firm in their spots locking up the left-wing position on each line, they could opt for a right-wing.
A simple move could be to put Dupuis on the third line and use Kennedy as part of any trade package to get one of the bigger names like Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Anaheim's Corey Perry. Each has already been attached to the Penguins and as the season goes on, the rumor mill is a safe bet to churn even more.
While Bylsma escapes some blame with fans and media, much like Shero has been able to elude with the team's terrible record drafting forwards. The final group is the current leadership on the ice.
There was an obvious change on the ice when the Penguins acquired Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams en route to a Stanley Cup. The latter two still play a key role on the team and with the experience of Crosby, Malkin, Orpik, and Letang, one has to wonder why so many post-game or post-practice press gatherings have involved the leadership questioning their teammates about a lack of composure, taking too many penalties, and less than desirable work ethic.
Crosby is the face of the NHL and captain of this team. He has an unparalleled work rate in practices and during games but it hasn't always been there with his teammates following his charge through games.
Is Crosby a vocal leader on the team? Does the team really have that kind of player on the team like Guerin was during the 08-09 season or Gary Roberts the season prior?
This could be why the Penguins put all their assets into a veteran leader like Iginla because it addresses a few concerns with the leadership, scoring, and depth.