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Insider Only Morning Pens Buzz: On Breakdowns vs Sens; Turnaround starts with committment to defense; Scouts take on Pens “finesse” role players

Morning Pens Buzz

It was a meltdown for the Penguins Tuesday night, falling to the Ottawa Senators 5-1 on home ice, dropping their 5th straight game. The team was lifeless when it counted and by the time they showed some life after Evgeni Malkin’s second period goal, it was to late.
The Penguins have scored six goals in their last five games and anyone can see that number and realize you’re not going to win hockey games with those type of numbers.
The high percentage shots are still missing and they were again vs Ottawa.
Injuries can be attributed to the Penguins struggles offensively but this is still a team that has Evgeni Malkin and four former 20-goal scorers aside from Malkin in their lineup in James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy and Steve Sullivan, and former 15+ goal scorers in the likes of Pascal Dupuis. This isn’t the 2003-2004 Penguins out there by any means.
Malkin is doing his part of late but Neal is pointless in his last five games, and Kunitz has one goal in his last seven games, which isn’t helping matters. Both will soon get to their games. It’s hard to be confident to say the same thing about Kennedy and Sullivan.
Kennedy’s been back long enough that the concussion excuse for him needs to start going away and Sullivan continues to bring absolutely nothing to the table at even strength and is no longer a top-6 winger.

BREAKING DOWN DEFENSIVE MISCUES

Pittsburgh is a mess fundamentally from a defensive standpoint, which has been the big surprise. Subpar goaltending and defensive breakdowns plagued the Penguins once again.
“We hung both our goalies out to dry, ” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said who was front and center among those Penguins having an awful night vs Ottawa.
Some of the Penguins issues are easily fixable if everyone gets committed to playing defense and showing more effort. Players are not going to their spots and on Ottawa’s first goal where Chris Neil had two cracks at the puck is a prime example of that.

How the play developed: Evgeni Malkin was the first forward back and as the center his No. 1 responsibility is to go help down low. Malkin instead took a swoop down the right boards and headed towards the blueline like he was waiting for a breakout pass. That left a 3-on-2 advantage for Ottawa down low and instead of holding the post like he should have and taking Neil, Lovejoy took Turris in front and by the time Cooke tried to cover for Malkin coming down from his left wing side, Neil had two easy swipes at the puck for the goal. It also wouldn’t have hurt if Brent Johnson threw a poke check in there either.
On the Senators second goal, a great individual play from Nick Foligno, Pittsburgh got beat defensively when the Senators came down the ice 2-on-5. It was a defensive breakdown highlighted by several players getting caught watching the puck carrier.
What went wrong: Tyler Kennedy trailing the play slows down not attacking the puck carrier and backing off when he should have done so due to the Penguins having players back. By Kennedy backing off, it turns into a 1-on-1 situation and Foligno looks like Claude Giroux turning Lovejoy inside out and makes a great feed to Bobby Butler for the goal.
Another key breakdown on the play: Butler beat Eric Tangradi to the net who got caught watching the puck carrier and was lazy on the play letting Butler get by, something that a young player looking to make a name for himself can’t let happen.

CLAMPING DOWN DEFENSIVELY

To turn things around it’s going to start defensively and what I took out of Bylsma’s media session Tuesday night is that’s where the focus is turning to going into Wednesday’s game against Washington.

“You gotta play the right way, ” Bylsma said. Play as a team defensively, ” he added. Bylsma noted that the Penguins locking down defensively is the first step to creating offense with this team right now. The key is starting to get everyone on the same page of playing team defense.
Right now the team isn’t and Bylsma’s “positive” message is not working. The feeling according to some close to organization is that Bylsma’s been “too positive” with his team’s play during their recent stretch, pointing to his remarks following the Rangers game.
From an on-ice product, what to watch tonight for is any systematic adjustments in the next couple games.

SCOUTS TAKE: PENS ROLE PLAYERS TOO FINESSE?

One scouts take when asked if the Penguins miss Mike Rupp and Max Talbot: “They’re a different team in the bottom of their lineup, that’s for sure, ” the scout said. “I like Joey Vitale and {Richard] Park, but what i see is too many of the same player. They don’t have a Talbot or Rupp on the 4th line — get you that crucial momentum changing goal or get the team going in other ways during tough stretches.”

TIDBITS

*Pens GM Ray Shero has been exploring the market for a top-6 winger for weeks now but Shero might want to alter those plans and get a backup goaltender….I’m being sarcastic somewhat but Johnson continues to show several signs that he’s the downside of his career. Brad Thiessen might finally get that one-way contract he covets.
*One thing I have not understand is why Zbynek Michalek seems to get a free pass from the fans, unlike Paul Martin. Michalek like Martin also has a big contract, 5 years – $20 million, has been inconsistent during his career as a Penguin and even poor sometimes. Yet, the fuss is always about Martin who carries a $5 million cap hit, not a huge difference from Michalek’s $4 million cap hit. My take on Michalek, Mark Eaton got the job done just as well or even better at a much lesser price, $2 million per season.
* In the view of some scouts, Matt Cooke is just an ordinary player now and has to start playing with more of an edge and get under players skin like he was accustomed to doing in the past, prior to his 17 game suspension last year. “He’s scaled back his game too much, ” a scout based in the Northeast region said, noting that Cooke needs to figure out how to play with more of an edge, while still staying within the rules. “Watching Matt Cooke play hockey, I’ve never seen him not finish checks like he does now. {He} doesn’t looked engaged some nights.”
*Simon Despres suffered a left leg injury in the loss. He had just 3:00 of ice time before going down with an injury in the first period.
*Expectations are that Kris Letang is on track to join his teammates for practice by the end of the week at the latest. “Kris has seen progression in his rehab, ” Bylsma said. “Skated three of four days now. Good sign for Kris, hopefully that means getting back to practicing at somepoint here in the near future.”
*Dustin Jeffrey is cleared to return to the lineup but was not activated off injured reserve for Tuesday’s game. He’s a good bet to be back  in the lineup on the road trip, possibly as early as tonight.

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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