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Insider Only Benefit of the Doubt for Defending Champions and Key Defensive Issues

How Much Concern should there be with the Penguins?

How to evaluate the Penguins this season has often been a tricky spot because of them being the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, they rightfully deserve the benefit of doubt.

And that still exists until the postseason begins and we’ll find out whether the Penguins always deserving the benefit of the doubt remains the case or not very soon.

Pittsburgh’s 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night was about as bad as it could get from a performance standpoint this season, considering the Red Wings have been a team over the last two weeks that has basically quit on the season.

The struggles were in all facets for the Penguins, including offensively where the Penguins only generated 13 shots through the first 45 minutes of play.

Offensively it was just one of those nights a team like the Penguins will have every once and a while.

Defensively is a different story as troubles continue.

Pittsburgh has a number of issues defending right now ranging from poor gap control where they’re getting crushed on zone entries, pinching too aggressively in the offensive zone without proper forward support and a lack of focus defensively has too much puck watching happening in their own end when the opposition establishes a cycle that has the Penguins struggling mightily to defend high-end danger chances 35 ft in.

While having to switch up your No. 1 and No. 2 pairings right before the playoffs isn’t ideal as the main decision behind that is trying to fix Kris Letang’s game defensively, sources say, a lot of the Penguins issues right now defensively are fixable/coachable areas in tightening up the gaps and forwards being motivated to play the neutral zone the right way and in their own end would change a lot of things and help shore things up.

However, the interesting dynamic with the Penguins looking extremely vulnerable defensively over the last several weeks to odd-man rushes is whether teams have figured out the Penguins attacking system Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

Standings continue to tighten up on the Penguins

Penguins @ Devils Tonight and as the Capitals start to pull away with the division lead, Pittsburgh is now more so playing to stay in the 2nd-3rd place spot.

This is a huge game for the Devils who with a regulation win would move two points behind the Penguins. New Jersey has won three straight against the Penguins.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF RACE
METROPOLITAN DIVISION
1. Washington Capitals | 77 GP – 99 Pts – 43 ROW
2. Pittsburgh Penguins | 77 GP – 92 Pts – 41 ROW
3. Philadelphia Flyers | 78 GP – 92 Pts – 37 ROW


ATLANTIC DIVISION
1. Tampa Bay Lightning | 76 GP – 106 Pts – 45 ROW
2. Boston Bruins | 75 GP – 105 Pts – 44 ROW
3. Toronto Maple Leafs | 77 GP – 99 Pts – 39 ROW


WILD CARD
1. Columbus Blue Jackets | 77 GP – 91 Pts – 37 ROW
2. New Jersey Devils | 76 GP – 88 Pts – 35 ROW


— As Connor McDavid is headed towards winning the Art Ross Trophy for the second consecutive season, now 6 points up on Nikita Kucherov and 9 points up on Evgeni Malkin/Claude Giroux, Malkin’s MVP candidacy that was redhot a few weeks ago has now taken a hit.

1. Connor McDavid | 77GP-40G-62A-102Pts
2. Nikita Kucherov | 74GP-38G-58A-96Pts
3. Evgeni Malkin | 73GP-42G-51A-93Pts
4. Claude Giroux | 78GP-27G-66A-93Pts
5. Nathan MacKinnon | 69GP-38G-54A-92Pts

To sway voters Malkin was going to have to continue to his run he was on and finish a strong 1st or 2nd in the points race.

There’s too many players bunched up with him that don’t have a Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel around him who could also finish top-10 in points and as stated before, that will hurt Malkin with voters.

Voters love good stories and there’s a lot of them, Nathan MacKinnon among them if he gets Colorado in the playoffs, 2nd in the NHL in points per game.

Claude Giroux has Philadelphia headed back to the playoffs and is tied with Malkin in points, another good story of taking a bubble team to the playoffs. Hard to overlook him if he finishes top-3 in scoring.

Brad Marchand leads the NHL in points per game, has 82 points in 61 games for a Boston team that was expected to be good but not this good like they’ve been with the 3rd most points in the NHL.

There’s also Alex Ovechkin who’s having a great season with an NHL leading 45 goals and is 12th in the NHL with 83 points. If he gets to 50 goals, how can he not be a finalist?


— Our condolences to Jim Rutherford and his family on the loss of his mother.

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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