Penguins Flaws Exposed in First Loss

The Pittsburgh Penguins are known to be a team that has played some of their best hockey early in the season. However, if their season opener was any indicator, the early part of the year could be a tough stretch for any fans of the team. Last night the Penguins were shutout 3-0 by Antti Niemi of the Dallas Stars. But what might be surprising to most is that the lack of goals should not concern anyone.

Pittsburgh is a vastly different team than the one that ended the 2014-15 season. Gone are players Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Paul Martin, Nick Spaling, and the list continues, and they have been replaced by players like Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel, Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr and more. Given the vast amount of roster turnover the Penguins experienced, it’s not a shock that many of their offensive players looked out of sync.

The Penguins are going to have one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the entire league this season, barring injuries. They have the “three-headed monster” of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel and an elite puck-moving defender in Kris Letang. The goals will come, they just need time to gel and work on improving their chemistry. Offense is not the Penguins’ biggest problem despite losing three to nothing. Obviously, the lack of scoring early in the season will be perceived as a flaw, but let’s revisit this topic in a few months and see if there are any concerns.

The Penguins’ Achilles Heel

A few weeks ago I discussed how the fate of the Penguins 2015-16 season hangs on the blue line. Well through the preseason  and one regular season game, it appears that this will be the case. Through the final four preseason Penguins games the team surrendered 24 goals, or 6 goals per-game.  Last night the Penguins allowed three goals and I’d argue that maybe one of them was the fault of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

The worst pairing on the ice last night was the duo of Brian Dumoulin and Rob Scuderi. Dumoulin was on the ice for two of the goals scored against and Scuderi was on the ice for all three. To make matters worse, this is only the beginning of the season and there’s a chance Dumoulin will improve, but Scuderi at age 36 will not.

After the game a Pittsburgh writer Dejan Kovacevic finally came out and admitted that Scuderi simply cannot play at an NHL level anymore. He was visibly dragging Dumoulin down and while he was not great in his own merit, Scuderi only made him look worse.

Take a look at what DK had to say about Scuderi.

Rob Scuderi might no longer be capable of playing at an NHL level.

It feels like it’s no longer possible to discuss the Penguins without stating that as a preface, so there it is, right up there in plain terms. It’s not exactly a riveting observation. It certainly isn’t a revelation. But consider the deed done.

OK, can we proceed now?

Scuderi was on the ice for all three goals. He was not at all good. He might be done. And if the Penguins were smart, they’d be weighing alternatives immediately.

Those are some pretty powerful works from someone who has yet to criticize Scuderi. DK has defended Scuderi’s roster spot before and it’s finally time that the Penguins management takes notice. Need another example of just how bad he was last night?

They were not the only two on the Penguins blue line to have poor outings as both Ben Lovejoy and even Olli Maatta struggled.

The only two defenders on the Penguins to have a positive Corsi relative rating were Kris Letang, who logged over 28 minutes of ice time, and Ian Cole. But neither of these players were outstanding either, Letang lost pucks, committed some giveaways and lost coverage a time or two and Cole lost his coverage three times and took a sloppy penalty.

Barring a miraculous turnaround, the Penguins are going to have a very bad blue line this season. Everyone wants to get caught up in the hype of having Kessel on the team, but his salary has been part of the reason why Pittsburgh has barely spent any of their cap on defenders. It’s clear that this strategy will not hold up throughout the season, especially if they want a chance to truly compete for the Stanley Cup.

Could David Perron be traded for defensive help like I previously suggested? If the Penguins continue to play this way, it’s not unfathomable that Perron ends the season playing for another team in an attempt to bring a legitimate top-four defender to Pittsburgh.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk