X’s & O’s

The Pittsburgh Penguins can pat themselves on the back from Sunday’s 4-1 loss in that they generated 38 shots, were +9 in scoring chances during 5 vs 5 play and controlled 59% of their shot attempts ( 5 vs 5).

Yet, this game was more than just Jimmy Howard out-playing Matt Murray.

“It seems like the mistakes we made ended up in the back of our net,” Mike Sullivan said afterwards. “That’s just the way it’s going right now. We did a lot of really good things as well, I thought we had a lot of zone time. We had a significant amount of scoring chances. I thought we got inside more tonight than we have in the past handful of games. It stings when you lose, but I think we’ve got to make sure we keep our heads up and we keep getting more determined and making sure we try to learn from each experience and move on.”

1. No Finish Ability in bottom-6, lack of high danger chances

Despite all the zone time and being more effectively in getting inside as Mike Sullivan alluded, Pittsburgh was still minus-2 in high danger chances (7/9 during 5 vs 5 play) and minus-1 during all situations.

Over their last three games, all regulation losses — Pittsburgh has posted a 5 vs 5 High Danger Shot Attempt For% of 36%, 38%, and 44% –.

Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh has scored 1 even strength goal over that span.

That just isn’t going to cut it for a team that is 30th in the NHL with 53 goals at 5-on-5.

Talk among scouts is that the Penguins are not hard enough to play against and teams are keeping them to the outside without much resistance.

And when their puck management is off the mark on zone-entries, they’re getting killed in transition the other way. That was on display in the Detroit, Carolina losses.

When it comes to the high-end talent on the team, it’s bound to happen that the group will start putting the puck in the net more efficiently and hopefully soon for their sake, but no finish ability most notably for the bottom-6 continues to haunt this group from winning games.

Minutes into last night’s game vs Detroit, Riley Sheahan makes a quick assertive play below the goal-line and sets Carl Hagelin up for a golden opportunity for the Penguins to strike first.

Hagelin fires the puck right into Jimmy Howard’s chest. Those are plays the Penguins bottom-6 are not finishing and it’s not just good goaltending their running into.

That’s type of scoring chance Hagelin hasn’t been scoring for two years now. Something has to give……..

2. Poor Transition Defense is starting with lackadaisical play away from the Puck

The Penguins are back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions because of how committed the Penguin forwards became in both post-season runs to their play away from the puck in the neutral zone to the d-zone. It was downright dominant at times and a major staple of what Mike Sullivan was able to do with the Penguins core, an area Dan Bylsma struggled with so much after Pittsburgh won in 09 that play a part in Pittsburgh never getting back to the Stanley Cup during the Bylsma era.

Yes, it’s the regular season and the Penguins are two-time defending Champs, but a sense of urgency to start winning with defense has to hit home before it’s too late.

Some shifts the forward group (and it’s not just one line) is just going through the motions and it’s killing this team and a big reason Pittsburgh is currently out of the playoffs at this point.

When you have someone like Frank Corrado in your lineup because of injuries, your forwards have to show more commitment to picking up the right players on the backcheck then they showed vs Detroit.

The Gustav Nyquist first period goal saw Nyquist make a quick inside move and beat Matt Murray with a great shot glove side.

The lead-up to the play, though, had the Penguins far too passive inside their blueline in how the Red Wings get a pressured zone entry down the boards and Pittsburgh is in good position with four guys back to create a 4-on-2 situation for them defensively.

However, None of the Penguins forwards (Phil Kessel/Patric Hornqvist) care to pick up Nyquist where he gets just enough time and space to create the goal, while Dylan Larkin goal was the Penguins shooting themselves in the foot with terrible transition defense and poor awareness away from the puck that continues to be a game-by-game thing.

What played out here is the Penguins turn the puck over in the neutral zone and even have two players bump into each other but they were still in good position where a breakaway from Larkin should have never happened.

Phil Kessel has Larkin man-to-man and Kessel gets caught puck watching as Larkin blows by him and another mistake was Evgeni Malkin who failed to protect the weak side to provide a security blanket defensively with the Penguins neutral-zone D.

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3. Murray’s poor angles have cost him over last three games

Matt Murray allowed 4 goals on 23 shots in the loss. On paper his performance looked worst than it was.

He got beat on two great plays from Nyquist and Larkin.

You’ll live with that but the Frans Nielsen goal just can’t happen in that situation and that made it three 1-on-1 type goals allowed between the shooter and Murray that Murray got beat on. That’s still too many.

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