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Insider Only Pens – Jets What We Learned: Poor Wall Play/Defensive Rotations against high-end skilled teams a growing problem for far too long

Penguins – Jets What We Learned

The Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins both had excuses coming into Tuesday night’s matchup. For Pittsburgh it was the obvious in being down two of their top-3 centers in Evgeni Malkin and Nick Blugstad, to go with top-9 winger Bryan Rust already sidelined. For the Jets, they could have came in and laid an egg without much fuss.

Among the reasons why:

It was the fourth and final game of an East coast swing to start the season and most notably the Jets were dressing a lineup vs the Penguins with their entire defensive corps from the end of last season wiped out.

Yet, it was the Penguins with their entire group of d-men in the lineup, including a seventh defenseman dressed that was the team that put on a display of squirt-level defensive play. The Penguins entered this season when healthy as a wild card level team and that was a common view from evaluators. Despite that, a 4-6 week injury to Evgeni Malkin is still not a death sentence for missing the playoffs. The Penguins did not lose the Evgeni Malkin of several years ago that was one of the best players in the league and this isn’t the NBA where you lose a superstar for a month and you’re likely done.  The Penguins can keep their head above water if Sidney Crosby is doing Sidney Crosby things and Matt Murray plays to his ability for a 3-4 week stretch, but the glaring problem short and long-term is just how bad this team is defensively. The blueline from a personnel standpoint is obviously a meh group but the issues are beyond that.

This is such a soft in group in winning puck battles and the constant breakdowns/lapses when they have numbers defensively is just astounding and as mentioned before, this isn’t something that’s just suddenly going to disappear.

Like opening night vs the Sabres, the Penguins were atrocious in their own end against a team in Winnipeg that gave the Penguins fits when pressuring the puck. What played out again is Winnipeg’s forward group had the characteristics of the type of skill/speed team that succeeds in putting the Penguins on their heels defensively which saw a combination of the Penguins’ forwards/defensemen running around with no mindset to play the right way in their own end. This was again the type of style/personnel from the opposition that continues to expose the Penguins defensive structure.

Poor Wall Play, Rotations Haunt Penguins in Loss

“Thought we deserved better,” Sidney Crosby said of the Penguins loss Tuesday night. Mike Sullivan also gave the same type of talk.

“I don’t think the score was an indication of how the game was played,” Mike Sullivan said. “I think the game was a lot closer than the score indicates.”

I just didn’t see the same game……

Crosby was great vs the Jets, and yeah the Penguins dominated in shots and possessed the puck well, but when you make 7-8 catastrophic defensive blunders to the matter the Penguins made, you don’t deserve better and the shot differential is going to mean squat.

Ville Heinola’s 1st period goal saw Erik Gudbranson get worked in a 1-on-1 battle behind the net by Mark Scheifele and Pittsburgh’s poor defensive rotation in defending the cycle gave them no security blanket for when Scheifele made quick work of Gudbranson behind the goal-line.

Here Pittsburgh gets caught with four defenders on the strong side and that’s a disaster waiting to happen against a top line like the Jets have. Jack Johnson and Teddy Blueger both over-pursue towards Patrick Laine leaving them in no-mans land to defend against the situation that plays out with Gudbranson whiffing on Scheifele. Patric Hornqvist the right winger on the line, not only fails to defend the weak side properly, when he rotates  as the puck swings behind the net, he leaves the entire middle of the ice open by puck watching and going below the face-off circles. On this shift, Pittsburgh already was at a disadvantage with the likes of Johnson-Gudbranson, Teddy Blueger and Zach-Aston Reese out against the Scheifele line, and most concerning with this team when healthy and not healthy is that it’s just no longer a smart defensive team in reading situations well. 2017 seems so long ago.


Zach Aston-Reese wall play was something on the Nikolaj Ehlers goal.

What stands out on the Aston-Reese turnover is Justin Schultz already darting towards the blueline when Aston-Reese just gets the puck on the wall. There continues to be more and more evidence of the Penguins needing to scale things back when activating their defensemen.

Later Alex Galchenyuk wanted to get in the mix of having a blooper-reel turnover leading to a goal but this was another situation where after the Galchenyuk turn-over, the Penguins -inexcusably lose another 1-on-1 puck battle down low where Kris Letang looks to be playing flag football and then the forward group again gets caught too low leaving the point-men having a free lane to get a shot on goal with traffic.

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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