The Penguins put on a dud performance Sunday afternoon, suffering a 4-0 shutout loss to the Nashville Predators.
The Penguins have scored three goals or less in 10 of their last 12 games, winning just four times during that span and it was tough sledding again for them offensively against a Nashville team with a strong blue line and a group of responsible forwards.
An Achilles heel for the Penguins from a style standpoint on how they play is getting second chance opportunities against quality defensive teams. A new coach and a different playing style to some extent hasn’t change that issue. The argument that it’s a lack of desire on the players who want everything to come easy for them, is certainly a warranted one.
Getting second chance opportunities has been a problem this season against teams like the Rangers, Capitals (potential playoff matchups) that box out very well and keep the Penguins to the outside effectively, and Nashville was able to have the same success vs the Penguins on Sunday
“Nashville did a good job keeping us to the outside tonight,” Penguins head coach Mike Johnston said after the loss.
The Predators blocked 19 shots.
“[Needed] more compete in offensive zone, trying to get those second opportunities and get pucks through,” said Nick Spaling, one of the few Penguin forwards to have a strong game. “They blocked a lot of shots which is a big.”
While the Penguins sit in good position, second place in the Metropolitan Division and one point out of first, the reality is areas that have derailed them in the playoffs the last couple years, — struggles in tight checking games — and creating second chance opportunities against defensive stout teams clearly remains an issue with this group, despite Penguin management going from being obsessed to building four scoring lines to now going back in the direction of believing they need grit to get out of what they feel is a more physical Eastern conference than expected.
Thirty two games to go but not much looks different with this group that can make you beam with confidence they are going to roll through a daunting Eastern Conference filled with teams with great goaltending that will be able to play tight checking games against them.
— The Penguins struggles to properly box out in front of the net was an issue vs the Predators Sunday afternoon. Just go back and watch Mike Fisher’s power play goal in the third period where James Neal was taking lunch in front of Marc Andre Fleury and when Robert Bortuzzo finally decides to go tend to Neal, Bortuzzo stands right in front of Fleury giving Fleury no view of the shot.
— Speaking of Fleury, the Penguins issues defensively of late have been less about the Penguins starting netminder but Fleury was never going to be able to sustain his level of play from earlier in the season and it’s no surprise he’s starting to fade back to his normal level of inconsistent play. Over his last 15 starts, Fleury has lost 12 of 15 games and has posted an .890 save percentage during that stretch. Fleury’s save percentage on the season has dipped from .933 on Dec 22 to now .919 in a span of five weeks. He’s never posted a save percentage above .920 in a season when he’s appeared in more than 35 games. Keep that in mind.
— Beau Bennett didn’t do much vs Predators to get back into the good gracious of Mike Johnston. “I thought he was okay tonight,” Johnston said…..”We talk about compete, have to compete offensively too,” Johnston said of Bennett and the Penguins forwards as a whole.
— One player that continues to standout in the eyes of the coaching staff is Derrick Pouliot. “Derrick’s looked good for sure,” Johnston said. “Going to take him with us and probably play majority of games [Western road trip]. Tonight when he jumped up ice, you knew something positive was going to happen.”
— Simon Despres performance vs Nashville will surely make the Penguins pause that he can handle top-2 pairing minutes against good to elite teams.
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