60 Minute Game? Pittsburgh’s struggles below the dots at both ends of the ice
Little was learned from the Penguins 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday that saw the Penguins collapse after leading 3-0 just 3:57 into the game after three goals in a 71 second span.
What the loss did was just further highlight glaring issues with this hockey club that isn’t just going to magically go away.
1. A growing theme is how much of a monumental challenge it is for the Penguins to put together a 60 minute game.
“We just didn’t play the game hard enough or smart enough for the majority of the game. When you get up that early in games, you’ve got to continue to play hard. You’ve got to continue to do the things that brought you success.” — Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan on Thursday’s 4-3 Loss to the Flyers
And is this really just a 2021 season thing?
Including the bubble, the Penguins have 9 regulation wins in their last 37 hockey games. That’s not just a small sample, it’s almost half of a full NHL season.
Pittsburgh’s struggles to put complete games together coincide with two areas of the ice they are so vulnerable to get exposed on a game by game basis.
–The team is one of the NHL’s most perimeter based offensive teams–
–They are a poor defending team below the dots and in the net-front area–
Some is personnel, some isn’t. The Penguins are challenged in being an effective team below the dots and having a strong presence offensively around the net and that can be put on the old regime. They became way too obsessed with just finding players who can skate without caring what other intangibles they brought to the table.
Defensively is a different story. How the group of blueliners are built and play from a style standpoint is more of an issue on the penalty kill than 5 vs 5. The 5 vs 5 issues are more struggles of the team as a whole failing to stay in their proper lanes and since the 2017 Cup, it’s just been a major drop-off no matter the change in personnel.
Does that come back to a stale voice behind the bench?
And that reared its head in a big way Thursday night when a player like John Marino who is supposed to be Pittsburgh’s most responsible defender along with Brian Dumoulin (did not play), is running around in his own end with no defensive awareness like he’s Mike Matheson 2.0.
If your as inconsistent as the Penguins are in those areas, your going to have constant issues to put complete games together as they do. Thursday night was just more of the same.
— The Penguins are playing at a 64 point pace, which would be the equivalent of a 93 point pace over an 82 game season. The Penguins internally believe the team has to accumulate at least 45 of the remaining 68 points to have a chance of reaching the playoffs in this division. A needed bounce back this afternoon sure is pretty big.
— How some evaluate Evgeni Malkin sure has changed. How many were talking him up so much after Tuesday’s win was nauseating. He was okay. Malkin, though, might have been distributing the puck he has all season in Thursday’s loss, but Malkin turning into Joe Thornton isn’t going to get the Penguins anywhere. How many times has the puck been on his stick to change the outcome of the game this season like it was in a 3-2 game in the third period when he couldn’t beat Brian Elliott glove side in a perfect spot that Malkin just has to put by Elliott in that situation. The game was on his stick to ice it.
— There has been strong rumblings around the league for a few weeks now that Jim Rutherford already has a President of Hockey Operations Job lined up with the Buffalo Sabres. Rutherford is very close to GM Kevyn Adams and is a huge fan of Ralph Krueger, but Krueger is going to be out the door before Rutherford can be officially hired and what an undertaking that would be for Rutherford at his age. Speaking of Krueger, some inside the Penguins organization have said Rutherford is so enamored with Krueger Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"
— Unless Mike Matheson’s suddenly starts becoming an elite points producer as a defenseman, no coach whether it’s Mike Sullivan or someone else is going to have the patience in the long-run to put up with the lack of defensive awareness/instincts that are among the worst you’ll see out of an NHL defenseman. That’s why taking on Matheson’s contract was so damaging long-term. Matheson has some great flashes and moments where you can get duped into really liking his game and feeling you can live with the defensive woes, but this is a guy that has been sheltered defensively at every chance you can get. Injuries or not, the Penguins can’t continue to play him in a No. 2 pairing role. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"