It was a question only Doug MacLean could ask so bluntly.
Couched with the admission that he, too, had yelled at his share of officials during his coaching days, the Hockey Central at Noon analyst asked Pittsburgh assistant general manager, Bill Guerin, about the Penguins players’ reputation for complaining to the referees.
“Your team whines quite a bit,” MacLean said to Guerin on-air Thursday. “It’s hurt you at times in key situations, and I think it’s hurt you at playoff time.”
“It’s definitely an area that we’ve identified as being an issue at times. And you know what? We’ve put ourselves in that position, and we have to be better. There’s no question,” Guerin admitted (watch the clip above).
“The referees are out there, they do a fantastic job, the game’s faster than ever, and it’s really hard to pick things up sometimes with just the naked eye.
“We just have to flat-out be better. And that’s it.”
Averaging 14:40 in penalty minutes per game, Pittsburgh has supplanted Winnipeg as the league’s most penalized team this season. The Penguins also have been charged with far and away the most game misconducts (18).
Should the Penguins (currently the Metropolitan Division’s third seed) make the playoffs as expected and the San Jose Sharks (six points out of the race) fail to qualify, Pittsburgh will have the NHL’s second-longest active playoff streak in the NHL at nine consecutive appearances.
But it’s the team’s recent pattern of unraveling once it reaches the post-season that has confounded fans.
In 2012, they were ousted in the opening round by the lower-seeded Flyers in a penalty-filled series, after Philly got under their skin. In 2013, they were swept decisively by lower-seeded Boston in the Eastern Conference final. And last season, they were booted in the second round by the lower-seeded Rangers, the scene of New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist squirting Sidney Crosby with water crystallizing opponents’ ability to throw a skilled team off its game.
Guerin spoke highly of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence this season, the Penguins’ trade-deadline addition of defenceman Ben Lovejoy for Simon Despres, and the off-season signing of gritty winger Steve Downie — who has 26 points and a career-high 221 penalty minutes.
“You always need some level of grit to have success. You can’t always be soft,” Guerin said. “Playoff hockey is a different brand. You have to be willing to go to the ugly areas to score goals. You have to pay a price.
“Guys like (Downie) can do that. He’s not just penalty minutes and fights; I think he’s got 12 goals. So he’s produced for us as well. We’ve been really happy with him.”