This past weekend was a key test for the Pittsburgh Penguins heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with match-ups against two Atlantic Division opponents in the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings. After squandering a four-goal lead against the Edmonton Oilers only to come back and win with two late goals by Steve Downie and Patric Hornqvist, the Penguins looked to solidify their identity against two tough teams in back-to-back afternoon contests.
Saturday’s matinee tilt against the Boston Bruins was doomed from the get-go with Sidney Crosby becoming a late scratch moments before puck drop. He was later substituted with the originally scratched Craig Adams.
Less than two minutes into the game, Evgeni Malkin took a hit from Chris Kelly that limited him to under five minutes of ice-time, all in the first period. Lastly, Thomas Greiss played admirably in the first of two games he’d see action in over the weekend, allowing one goal from Milan Lucic in the first period.
Boston prevailed by a score of 2-0 as Zdeno Chara added an empty-netter to seal the Penguins fate.
After an embarrassing loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings looked to improve their play against the Penguins, a team they have grown quite familiar with over the last seven years, meeting them twice in back-to-back Stanely Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009.
The Wings did just that and then some. Marek Zidlicky led the Red Wings to a dominant 5-1 victory over the Penguins, even with Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury inserted back into the line-up. Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots.
Once again, the loss came during an afternoon game, as the Red Wings and Penguins squared off at 12:30 P.M. on NBC.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were not always a bad afternoon team, but over the last three seasons, their record has declined sharply. Looking back at their decline, games starting at or before 3:00 P.M. were used for the statistics.
2012-13 Afternoon Games
During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the most dominant teams in the league. They were Stanely Cup favorites, but as we all know, that did not pan out. However, despite the post-season disappointment, the Penguins played in nine afternoon games and went 8-1-0 with the lone blemish belonging to the New Jersey Devils on February 9, 2013. They dropped that contest by a 3-1 score.
The Penguins were 4-0-0 at home picking up wins against the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers (twice), and Boston Bruins. Equally as impressive was their 4-1-0 record on the road with victories against the likes of the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins.
In March of that year, the Penguins went 15-0-0, with two afternoon wins against the Rangers and one against the Bruins.
With games starting at 12:30 P.M., the Penguins were 4-0-0. In games starting at 1:00 P.M., the Penguins posted a 3-1-0 record and the lone game at 3:00 P.M., the season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers was a 3-1 victory.
List of games:
- 1/19/13- W @ PHI 3-1 3:00 P.M.
- 2/2/13- W vs. NJ 5-1 1:00 P.M.
- 2/3/13- W @ WAS 6-3 12:30 P.M.
- 2/9/13- L @ NJ 3-1 1:00 P.M.
- 2/17/13-W vs. BUF 4-3 (SO) 12:30 P.M.
- 3/16/13- W vs. NYR 3-0 1:00 P.M.
- 3/17/13- W vs. BOS 2-1 12:30 P.M.
- 3/30/13- W vs. NYR 2-0 1:00 P.M.
- 4/20/13- W @ BOS 3-2 12:30 P.M.
2013-14 Afternoon Games
After a phenomenal regular season and much success in afternoon contests, the Penguins were relegated to .500 the following season, posting a 4-4-1 record. The Penguins picked up victories over the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Their four regulation losses came at the hands of the New Jersey Devils, two against the Philadelphia Flyers, and the St. Louis Blues.
Their lone overtime loss also came at the hands of the Flyers.
The victories from the 2013-14 season are not quite of the same caliber compared to the year previous and when looking at the Penguins March record which was immaculate the season before, they posted a 1-3-0 record.
The biggest observation to take away from that statistic is that when a team is gearing up for a playoff push, they do not want to struggle in the waning month and a half. That is the time of the year where the team needs to buckle down and start playing playoff hockey before the actual playoffs begin.
In the only 12:30 P.M. contest, the Penguins lost 4-3 to the Flyers on March 16. In seven 1:00 P.M. start times, their record was an underwhelming 4-3-0. The 3:00 P.M. saw the Flyers pick up a 4-3 overtime win on April 12.
List of games:
- 10/19/13- W vs. VAN 4-3 (SO) 1:00 P.M.
- 12/21/13- W vs. CGY 4-3 1:00 P.M.
- 12/31/13- L @ NJ 2-1 1:00 P.M.
- 1/5/14- W vs. WPG 6-5 1:00 P.M.
- 3/15/14- L @ PHI 4-0 1:00 P.M.
- 3/16/14- L vs. PHI 4-3 12:30 P.M.
- 3/22/ 14- W vs. TB 4-3 (OT) 1:00 P.M.
- 3/23/14- L vs. STL 1-0 1:00 P.M.
- 4/12/14- OTL vs. PHI 4-3 3:00 P.M.
2014-15 Afternoon Games
If you thought .500 was okay, you’ll be embarrassed by this mark. So far in this season, with two afternoon games to go, the Penguins are 1-4-1. Even if they win their last two afternoon tilts, they will be below .500. Their lone afternoon win this season came on December 6 versus the Ottawa Senators by a score of 3-2; Christian Ehrhoff with the game-winning slap shot.
The losses this year have come against nothing but quality teams, two of whom lead their division in points (New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, tied with the St. Louis Blues). The losses against good teams, which also include the Chicago Blackhawks, and the two at the beginning of this story, Boston and Detroit, is not troublesome. It is how they’ve lost the games, which you’ll read in a moment.
With games against the Arizona Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets to wrap up their afternoon game schedule, the Penguins desperately need to collect four “easy” points. The two teams are out of the playoff race by a considerable margin and will be playing to spoil any momentum, if the Penguins even have any, heading into the playoffs.
The Penguins lone win this season came at a 1:00 P.M. start time, which overall this season, they are 1-1-0. They are winless in games starting at 12:30 and 2:00 P.M., respectively, with a collective record of 0-3-1.
List of games:
- 12/6/14- W vs. OTT 3-2 1:00 P.M.
- 1/18/15- L vs. NYR 5-2 12:30 P.M.
- 2/1/15- L vs. NSH 4-0 2:00 P.M.
- 2/15/15- OTL @ CHI 2-1 (SO) 12:30 P.M.
- 3/14/15- L vs. BOS 2-0 1:00 P.M.
- 3/15/15- L vs. DET 5-1 12:30 P.M.
- 3/28/15 vs. ARI 1:00 P.M.
- 4/4/15 @ CBJ 2:00 P.M.
It is hard, almost impossible to ignore the Pittsburgh Penguins struggles in afternoon games over the last three seasons. In 2012-13, they averaged 3.22 goals per game and only allowed an average of 1.44 per contest. In 2013-14, they averaged 2.77 goals per game and averaged 3.44 goals against. This season, the Penguins are averaging 1.16 goals per game and allowing 3.33 goals against. The Penguins have been shutout twice this season in afternoon games.
It does not take a master statistician to see that this is troubling.
What exactly is the cause of their decline, I have no idea. Is it the age of the players finally catching up to them? Crosby and Malkin are no longer in their mid-20’s. The Penguins are no longer a young team.
Could it be the amount of games they’ve played over the last several seasons? Is it the withering effect of a long season finally breaking down the athletes to not be able to perform when they are regularly accustomed?
Again, I have no idea, but if the latter is the case, maybe Gary Roberts can help them in the future.
Whatever the case may be, the Penguins struggles in the afternoon, while not season defining, is a cause for concern. In order to be a successful team, one has to be ready for whatever is thrown at them. There is a lack of drive on the ice when watching an afternoon Penguins game.
It seems like we as an audience are watching an exhibition rather than a game worth two points. I understand the superstitions and player routines that need to take place, but the Penguins play in matinee games is unacceptable this season and needs to be fixed going down the road.
THW Penguins Contributor
Adam Williams is a graduate from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Communication and M.S. in Sports Administration. While at the school, he was a sports broadcaster, radio personality, and editor/writer for the school paper. He also interned with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the 2012-13 season.
More of his writing can be found on adamwilliams13.weebly.com and thoughts/opinions on his Twitter feed (@AdamWilliams71).