The Penguins continue to embark on a West Coast swing tonight against the San Jose Sharks who two weeks ago dealt the Penguins an embarrassing 6-4 loss just before the All-Star Break. With the deadline inching closer, Penguins General Manager Ron Hextall has said he’s looking for better results from a group he really likes on paper.

Pittsburgh has come out of the break accumulating four out of a possible six points thus far with a come from behind win against the Avalanche and routing the lowly Ducks. Hextall should be operating with the mindset that this will be a playoff team. Good news is while Pittsburgh is only playing at a 96-point pace, the threshold for the final playoff spot could fall as low to the 89–90-point range.

Entering today, Washington is playing at a 92-point pace. The Islanders, Sabres, and Red Wings 88-point pace, while the suddenly surging Panthers are currently at an 87-point pace. The whole group including the Penguins have been so inconsistent this season and playing at a +8-point pace over the 9th-12th placed teams is a sizeable cushion at this time of the season. Maybe one of those teams trailing the Penguins really goes on a run but two of them just seems unlikely.

But the reality of the situation for the Penguins is that while things continue to trend that they’ll be a playoff team, games against the Avalanche should have been another wake-up call for management that this group is so far away from being a true contender in the East. There are too many holes and a system problem that the trade deadline isn’t going to fix.

Pittsburgh’s thrilling overtime win against the Avalanche showed great resiliency and fight to stick with things. If there’s ever going to be a fluke win it was that night. What the game should have showed Hextall is how many passengers the Penguins have when matched up against an elite talented group and one thing I keep coming back to is how the Penguins systematic play is getting steamrolled against quality level teams. They have evolved into one of the bottom-10 teams in how they defend the neutral zone and Pittsburgh’s approach of trying to beat quicker more talented teams with stretch pass after stretch pass got so exposed in the Avalanche game.

And games like the 6-0 loss to the Kings, not surprisingly just like the 6-4 loss to the Sharks prior to the break, has to start pointing the picture at the coaching staff in how NO disciplinary style defensively is being implemented or enforced. It’s a do what you want system…….

Constant puck watching and players running out of their lanes is popping up game after game against a quality opponent.

On the Kings opening goal of the game, Kris Letang decides he’s playing left D and chases by taking himself out of position……… Pittsburgh then has both wingers deep on the strong side of the puck with Evgeni Malkin in no-man’s land and who of course never picks up his man. And most in-excusable, the Kings only had four players on the ice and the Penguins still got burnt defensively.

Later in the game, Pittsburgh’s inability to defend the neutral zone off the rush was on display again.

Here the Penguins have a 3 vs 3 situation with numbers as a back checker is closing to give them +1 advantage. Yet, the entire group gets lost with the center drive.

Goal off the rush for the Kings to make it 4-0 and its game over early in the second period.

Beyond questions of whether the Penguins are playing the right style that’s tailored to the roster, at some point the lack of intelligent play of away from the puck has to start falling on the coaching staff for having no authority to getting the team to change in this critical area that the Penguins really need to be elite at to off-set holes in the roster.

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