The Penguins just might be on to something recently, as the team has won five of their last six contests. Mike Johnston’s seat is cooling down as we speak and whether or not this team is ‘buying-in’ seems to be a dwindling concern. In fact, they rallied from a 1-0 deficit last night against the Washington Capitals, a team many expected to bury the Penguins in speed and offense and defeated their division rivals by a score of 3-1.
However, there’s still plenty to be concerned about in Pittsburgh. My goal isn’t to sound like a pessimist but does it truly feel as if things are going well for the Penguins? The temperature of this team doesn’t necessarily strike me as healthy. And, truth be told, they’d be lucky to have any victories at all if it wasn’t for the stellar play of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Penguins Power Play – Stale and Ineffective
At this point, the fact that there has been no accountability for this unit is mind-boggling. They’re now 2-for-31 on the power play and currently rank last in the NHL. The finger-pointing has started, as recent reports claim that Rick Tocchet denied involvement with that group, despite the widespread understanding that he was specifically responsible for that aspect of the game. If he isn’t handling the power play, who is?
The reality of the situation is that this coaching staff needs to take ownership of the situation and fix it. They’ve tried multiple formats, splitting Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on different units and alternating both Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist in front of the net. The same result ensues, which is a lack of shots and scoring opportunities.
My question is, when will a meaningful change occur? The only change that matters right now is a fresh face to take control of this unit and produce results. I would have liked to see the Penguins reach out to Brad Lauer after he was released from his duties in Anaheim. Lauer’s X’s and O’s approach would have helped the Penguins find the shooting lanes and allowed their talent to do the rest.
Without Crosby, This Team Can’t Succeed
The Penguins need Sidney Crosby at his best if they want to find any sustained success. Last season was considered a bad year, as his production fell to 84 points after he led the league in 2013-14 with 104. And, while there’s a multitude of reasons that have been cited and discussed ad nauseam, the fact remains that Sid has gone scoreless in eight of nine games this season. Unacceptable.
Gone are the excuses of not having formidable wingers to play with. That reasoning was tossed to the street when Jim Rutherford acquired Phil Kessel this summer. The two looked okay together but still, Crosby didn’t produce. He’s now flanked by long-time winger Pascal Dupuis and right-wing Patric Hornqvist. Both players seem to fit Crosby’s style perfectly but still, no production. What needs to happen in order for Sid to get going?
Is it far-fetched to consider Malkin the Penguins’ top-line center at this point?
Under-Performing Wingers Means Less Trade Value
The Penguins have all but abandoned Mike Johnston’s puck-possession system, which was very evident in the victory against Washington. They resorted to a trap-style defensive approach and played dump-and-chase hockey for much of the contest in order to hide their weaknesses on the blue line. Plain and simple, they need to acquire a top-four defenseman if they want any shot at a post-season run.
The problem, though, is that the left side of this lineup can’t seem to find any consistency. Chris Kunitz and David Perron are struggling while Sergei Plotnikov is spending time in the press box watching the game instead of dressing for it. They’ve moved Pascal Dupuis to the left side, which may work but will he remain healthy? Outside of Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist, no one on this roster will fetch the kind of player that Pittsburgh needs. And, if you’re in the camp that believes Daniel Sprong means Hornqvist can be traded, Dan Kingerski at PittsburghPostGame.Com has a great breakdown of why he isn’t. At least, not yet. He needs to stick around and develop in the NHL but to think he’s ready for full-time top-six duties is wishful thinking.
The trade market is beginning to shape up a bit. I’ve reached out to a few folks around the league and will have an article soon with who may be on the move that fits the Penguins. Of course, I’m not sure they can fill anyone else’s needs at the moment without including picks or maybe, GASP… Matt Murray.
More on that at a later date. For now, let’s see if the Penguins are able to address their internal needs. Despite their recent success, this team is far from perfect and there’s plenty of work to do; work that doesn’t include relying on Fleury to bail them out every night.
Pittsburgh Penguins writer for TheHockeyWriters.Com and PittsburghHockeyNow.Com. Youth hockey coach, and student of the game.