Penguins Not Playing to Full Potential in Comeback Wins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have become the comeback kings of the NHL this season, winning four games in a row after trailing in each game. The four games against the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have given them eight points, and they currently sit in second place behind the Capitals in the East Division. The wins haven’t been pretty, but they have given us a glimpse of what this season is going to be all about for the Penguins. Here’s what we have learned:

Top 3 Lines Chipping In

It’s been a group effort for the Penguins, with six different players scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals. Against the Capitals, Marcus Petterson scored to send the first game to overtime. In the second game, Evgeni Malkin scored the game-tying goal, and Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner. Against the Rangers, Teddy Blueger scored the tying goal Friday night. Jared McCann scored the goal to tie the game, and Jake Guentzel banged in the winner Sunday night. The Penguins saw contributions from three different lines exhibiting the depth they have on offense.

The Penguins have not allowed trailing stop them from taking the pedal off the gas. They continue to attack and not let the score discourage them. Bryan Rust talked about the confidence these wins have created inside the locker room, “we’re developing that confidence knowing that it doesn’t matter how many goals we’re down or what the situation is. We can always make a push.” (from ‘Penguins beat Rangers for 4th straight victory,’ Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 01/24/2021) The Penguins haven’t allowed their defensive breakdowns and unstable goaltending to dictate the entire game. It’s easy to play dejected when things aren’t going the right way, yet the Penguins have still grinded away despite the scoreboard.

Related: Penguins Weekly: Knocking Off Early Season Rust

The most important positive from these comebacks is that they have translated to wins. In a shortened all division play season, wins are more important than ever. Getting two points instead of one has been crucial. After the two straight losses to the Philadelphia Flyers, it looked as if the Penguins’ dynasty was about to come crumbling down.

Even if these wins weren’t pretty, the Penguins proved they weren’t going to go down that easily and now sit just one point away from first place in the East Division. With a whole lot of season left to play, the Penguins will be fighting every step of the way.

Penguins Haven’t Played a Full 60 Minutes

Although these comebacks have ended favorably for the Penguins, there have been some glaring issues exposed. One of them being, they have poor starts. They have trailed after the first period in three of the four wins.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The only game they led after the first was Friday night against the Rangers, where they allowed three unanswered goals in the first five minutes of the period. If the Rangers were a more experienced team, they would not have been able to get back into the game.

Playing from behind is not a sound strategy. The Penguins are playing with fire, and they know it. Kris Letang admitted that playing down is not ideal, and they don’t want to get used to that. “We have to get to our game as soon as the puck drops and we have to keep it for 60 minutes.” The Penguins have not fully dominated any game they have played this year.

Against the Rangers, the Penguins were outshot in both games for the first time this season. Three of the four wins have been in overtime, two in a shootout. They have not outright controlled any game. Crosby and Malkin have gone point-less in two of the four wins. Tristan Jarry played better but still allowed five goals against the Rangers. Slightly less than the seven goals Casey DeSmith allowed against the Capitals.  

Related: Penguins Need More Out of Malkin and Letang

Some of the sloppiness can be chalked up to the short training camp and the players still trying to jell with each other. The injuries to defensemen Marcus Pettersson, Mike Matheson, and Juuso Riikola have depleted an already thin defense. The team has already faced adversity in the first few weeks of the season and have come out on the right side for now. The Penguins have some cleaning up to do, or their luck is going to run out.

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