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Insider Only January, February should provide a proper evaluation of who the Penguins really are

The Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night dropped their fourth straight game with a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Pittsburgh controlled the play in the first period and took a 1-0 lead on a beautiful backhand goal from Sidney Crosby but the Devils playing more of a trap now with Lou Lamoriello behind the bench, played a patient game, clogged the middle and waited for chances to develop as a better battle level, structure, eventually took over for the Devils.
The Penguins sported a lineup vs Devils that represented a preseason lineup but still had a lot of top tier talent in the game and were 0-3 on the power play and now just 3 for their last 48 on the man advantage.
As we’ve seen in previous years, when the kids initially come up there’s normally a three to four game stretch where the Penguins play with a ton of effort, energy and outwork teams to victories. Eventually the adrenaline wears off and those players get exposed. That’s now happening for the Penguins.
Johnston on Tuesday said half of the Penguins group didn’t show up vs Devils.
“We needed a response,” Johnston said. “We need to squeeze more out of each individual. We probably got a good response from half of our group. We didn’t get a good response from the rest of them…. We needed more guys pulling on the rope and we didn’t have enough.”
The team will have a different look tonight vs the Hurricanes as Christian Ehrhoff, Beau Bennett and Craig Adams are expected to return to the lineup, while Steve Downie is likely to return Friday night and Paul Martin not that far behind.
The only long-term injury at this point is Blake Comeau (fractured wrist) as Olli Maatta Patric Hornqvist should be back by mid-January, if not sooner. Maatta again skated this morning with Zach Sill and Downie.
If the injury bug finally goes away, a proper evaluation of the Penguins should come over the next two months.
Aside from injuries, the Penguins this season have been impossible to evaluate for a variety of reasons. They have a great record but it’s not all about the wins and losses in the regular season for a team like the Penguins as we’ve learned in the past.
There’s been signs when healthy that this group is a bit different and are playing the right way, notably 5 v 5 defensively that wins you multiple playoff series, compared to last season where despite the Penguins playing a lot of winning hockey, it was clear they weren’t playing the right way from a structure and personnel standpoint that leads to winning hockey in the playoffs.
Few should have been shock at how vulnerable the Penguins were last post-season.
When evaluating this group, it’s always about how they project in the playoffs, and there are so many factors to weigh and throw out from earlier in the season that led to some luck, from the initial adrenaline rush of playing for a new coach that the team had for the first month, to the unbelievable success rate the power play had the first four to six weeks of the season, which carried them a lot of nights, something that was unsustainable which we’re seeing now, to Marc Andre Fleury’s play through the first two months of the season, something that is also unlikely to be sustained, at least the Vezina trophy caliber play he is playing at.
As great of a start the Penguins got off to, there was still a stretch in November prior to the Penguins getting wrecked by injuries in early December, where the Penguins were winning games they probably didn’t deserve to as teams were showing signs of adjusting to the Penguins and Pittsburgh’s 5 v 5 possession numbers started to dip.
January, February should provide a better look at who the Penguins really are, just in time for the March 2nd trade deadline.
The wishlist remains the same as it almost always does and with limited cap space: A top-6 forward and depth forward.

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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