Penguins – Blackhawks Fallout

There was a buildup coming into Wednesday night’s Penguins – Blackhawks game that it was a very important to start for Marc Andre Fleury and that momentum was on Fleury’s side that he could very well unseat Matt Murray to be the starter in the playoffs.

I’ll say it again…..There is no open competition in goal as to who’s going to be the starter for the beginning of the playoffs and it is only being driven by the Fleury crowd among the fan base, media and maybe a small fraction of the Penguins organization who would like to see it.

Outside of the media/fan base, is there some in the Penguins organization who want to see a storybook ending and Fleury regain the No. 1 job? Yes, there is, but this isn’t the Pirates organization where the Team President dictates roster, lineup decisions.

If Fleury would have had a shutout last night, it still would not have moved the needle into his direction.

Matt Murray is the No. 1 and Fleury is the backup. That’s not a knock on Fleury, it’s just the reality of the situation for Fleury who has not made consecutive starts since a two game stretch months ago when Murray was injured. (Dec 31, 2016 /Jan 8, 2017)

Mike Sullivan has been fully committed to Murray as his No. 1 goaltender since last spring and he’s not just going to go away from Matt Murray who led the Penguins in goal to a Stanley Cup and is currently 5th in the NHL in save percentage among goaltenders who have appeared in at least 45 games, over a couple weeks of inconsistent play.

Until Murray implodes in the playoffs, there’s just no story here.

Similar Issues plague undermanned Penguins

The Penguins know first hand how important momentum is going into the post-season. They rode it all the way to a Stanley Cup last season and the same in 2009.

With six games remaining, the focus for the Penguins shouldn’t be all about getting home-ice in a likely 2-3 Round 1 matchup. A bigger priority now should be making sure guys are healthy/fresh going into Round 1 and the most important thing is the Penguins getting some of their swagger back over the next week and a half before the playoffs.

“We understand that some of the guys we have out of our lineup are difficult to replace. They’re good players. We understand that. But we also believe we have what it takes to win. That’s where our focus needs to be,” Mike Sullivan said after the Penguins’ 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The team is just looking a little dull right now, not playing with a lot of energy and speed.

Sunday night was just a really bad performance from the Penguins in all facets. Wednesday night vs Chicago was a bit different. The Penguins were outplayed but not by the significant wide margin the 5-1 score might indicate.

The Penguins were undermanned talent wise against the Western Conference leading Blackhawks and what this game came down to was the Blackhawks converted on their high quality scoring chances and the Penguins didn’t.

Pittsburgh didn’t produce the high amount of odd-man rushes the Blackhawks did but the overall scoring chances were there on the Penguins side to potentially make this a track meet.

Self inflicted wounds just haunted the Penguins from being competitive on the scoreboard.

Justin Schultz had another rough game with a failed pinch leading to the late Marian Hossa goal in the first period that put a dagger in the Penguins and Schultz is just over-extended right now in a No. 1 pairing role and trying to do too much.

In the third period, Schultz turned the puck over just inside the Blackhawks blueline leading to a breakaway goal the other way. Also, the adrenaline rush of the Wilkes Barre defenders giving the Penguins positive play is wearing off which should have been expected.

Phil Kessel’s Free Pass

Upfront Pittsburgh did get some things they wanted in the top line of Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary driving possession/chances, while Bryan Rust who was removed from the top line after the first period, scored the Penguins lone goal and was one of the more active players in creating offense by getting to the high danger areas. Rust used his speed well vs the Blackhawks.

Crosby, Sheary and Rust combined for 11 shots during 5 vs 5 play.

Aside from those three, there wasn’t a lot to like from the forward group.

I thought again the Penguins could have used Josh Archibald’s speed and energy on the 4th line against a skating team like the Blackhawks.

With Nick Bonino cooling off the last couple nights, this injury situation is where you should be able to count on Phil Kessel to elevate his game but that hasn’t been the case. Kessel was invisible again vs Chicago and has 1 goal in his last 20 games.

Kessel won himself a free pass To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!