PENGUINS AND THE BIG PICTURE
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a fortunate team to be 6-4 at the 10 game mark and the best way to describe the first 10 game stretch of the season is ‘survival mode’.
The data, the eye-test, little adds up for them being 6-4 right now but to their credit they’ve found ways to win.
The Penguins had some positives vs the lowly Sabres and backup goaltender Chris Johnston Thursday night.
They scored some playoff style goals in around the net.
Pascal Dupuis 56 seconds in scores in around the net (10ft) and all of the Penguins goals came from prime scoring areas.
Patric Hornqvist (26 ft), Ben Lovejoy (10 ft) and a power play goal from Evgeni Malkin (10 ft).
The negative on the night, the Penguins needed a 50 save performance from Jeff Zatkoff to survive an onslaught from the Sabres, a team that will be in the running once again for the top overall pick and was missing the likes of Evander Kane.
Buffalo out-shot Pittsburgh 53-29, out-attempted the Penguins 83-44 and at even strength held a 72-40 advantage in shot attempts. This coming from a Sabres team whose system under Dan Bylsma is not tailored towards being a strong possession team and neither is the talent right now.
Over the final 25:03 of the game, the Penguins were out-shot 29-4.
The last time the Penguins gave up 53 or more shots in a game was Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. That game went into three overtimes.
Was last night just a sequence of the Penguins playing on back-to-back nights and the coaches opting to make no lineup changes?
It would be easy to buy that if the Penguins weren’t already bottom-5 in Shot Attempts Against/60 and that was prior to the Sabres peppering them with 80+ attempts. The Penguins being in the bottom-5 is not a fluke and it’s unlikely we see them get out of the bottom-10 this season.
The Penguins are not playing great lock down defense, that’s one myth going around right now.
They’re getting spectacular goaltending to keep the goals against numbers at an elite level and the great goaltending has kept them from having a Columbus Blue Jackets type start.
The goaltending is going to take a step back at some point, that’s the reality of the situation.
What is going to have to be answered as the season progresses is how the Penguins off-set the high Shot Attempts/Against when the luck goes away and the goals against start to go up which is bound to happen.
A trend through 10 games has been the opposition going through six to eight minute stretches where they control the play and hem the Penguins in their own end for multiple shifts.
The Penguins ability to survive those stretches has been the story of the season so far and why they’re 6-4, instead of 3-7, and having a press conference today to name a new coach.
These type of stretches happen at least twice a game, sometimes three or four times.
Last night late in the first period Buffalo was on the winning side of one of those stretches with two goals in a 2:25 span where the Penguins struggles to possess the puck for the last six-seven minutes of the period got Buffalo back in the game.
In the third period the Penguins survived just barely when the ice was tilted in Buffalo’s favor for the entire period.
The Penguins are 27th in the NHL with a 46.7 CF% at even strength. No team has made the Stanley Cup with an even strength CF% under 50% since the 2008-2009 Penguins.
The Penguins are not just suddenly going to flip a switch and start clicking at 52-53% with this backend.
Pittsburgh’s ability to get back into the fray this season as a Stanley Cup Contender is still going to come back to the offense in being able to show a quick strike ability to get timely goals and the power play becoming a consistent factor.
There’s a glimmer Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"