Worrisome Trends Continue
The Pittsburgh Penguins have dropped seven of nine after a sleepless performance Saturday afternoon in a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.
In a year where there looks to be real separation between division winners and wild card level teams, the Penguins continued a worrisome trend against their arch rival on a day that was a four point swing in the wrong direction for the Penguins.
A concern amongst the coaching staff has long been that when the Penguins get fully healthy, the bad habits and lack of commitment to playing all three zones with structure and discipline would re-emerge.
And that’s exactly played out and it’s been building for several weeks. Mike Sullivan was warning against it weeks ago as he and others all saw it coming.
The Penguins winning two straight against the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres proved nothing and it was two wins that you take with a grain of salt. This weekend against Washington and Carolina was going to be the story if the six game losing streak was going to be a wake up call or a continued trend outside of wins and losses.
What made Saturday’s lackluster performance defensively so eye opening is how bad defensively the Washington Capitals have been for a couple months now, yet, the Capitals looked steps away in playing intelligent brand of hockey in all through zones.
Dissecting Issues that need corrected Fast.
The Penguins have had a trifecta combination that’s compounded their issues defensively for several weeks:
1. With a defensive group led by Kris Letang who plays a reckless style of hockey, Pittsburgh relies heavily on their forward group to cover mental mistakes on the backend. The read and react play away from the puck has taken a major step back for the forward group that’s leading to continued breakdowns from the F3 and that has had the Penguins losing the neutral zone on a consistent basis. It’s a complete turnaround from the first couple months of the season where Pittsburgh was coming at teams in waves when tracking the puck and had security layers with their neutral zone play.
2. Kris Letang just doesn’t give a damn. Those in the media and fan base can go ahead and make excuse after excuse for Letang, blame Jack Johnson and whoever, but this is playing out as another season where if the Penguins have any hope of changing defensively, Letang can’t be part of the solution. It was clear after last season, moving Letang would be the only option to becoming more disciplined, intelligent defensive team. All evidence is in that direction again. The coaching staff has had great success this season in getting Evgeni Malkin to make a bigger commitment to his two way game, while with Kris Letang they seem to have no control in trying to rein his game in.
3. Justin Schultz’ 2016-2017 season that earned him a $5.5 million a year pay day, has played out to being a major fluke season players will sometimes have.
This year has been another season for Schultz that has him resembling the atrocious defensive player he was in Edmonton and with the lack of offense Schultz is giving Pittsburgh, there would be no drop off in playing Chad Ruhwedel over Schultz. And that says everything of how bad of a player Schultz has been this season. He’s been on a steep decline for two seasons now……
On trade deadline additions
The Penguins at the deadline deserved the praise they got in making themselves a deeper team. But, none of the additions moved the needle much at all.
It’s a small sample but what you see from Conor Sheary, Patrick Marleau and Evan Rodrigues is what you get. Sheary has brought that slippery style of play to the table and while there’s scuttlebutt that Sidney Crosby was very excited about the prospect of adding Sheary to his line and some say pushed for the acquisition, the Crosby – Zucker line was a more dangerous unit in driving offense when whipping boy Dominik Simon (currently injured) was flanking Crosby’s right wing. Sheary is playing an elevated role than what he’s suited for.
And that’s even more so with Patrick Marleau. Marleau can still skate and he’s such a smart player in that he’s often in the right spots. But, the hands are completely shot and anyone who watched him late last season in Toronto knew that coming in.
The key player added to the lineup over the last two weeks is what the Penguins get moving forward from Nick Bjugstad offensively. Pittsburgh has a group of depth forwards that can skate and make plays but few are gifted with true scoring ability. Bjugstad is one of Pittsburgh’s more talented players with the puck on his stick but he’s always been one of those players where you feel there’s more offense in him than you get. Pittsburgh needs him to emerge offensively late in the season.Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"