The Pittsburgh Penguins look great again this season. They currently have 58 points and are poised to make the playoffs for their ninth consecutive year. Evgeni Malkin is at the top of his game right now and last week was named the top candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy by NHL.com. Just look at his confidence and overall ability on this assist from Tuesday night.
After a slow start, in relation to his standards, Sidney Crosby has notched 4 goals and 5 assists in the last five games. Crosby also shot the puck a combined 20 times over that five game span, his second highest rate over a five game span all season. The Penguins even made one of the biggest first half acquisitions this season when they traded for forward David Perron in early January. Perron has contributed well, tallying 5 goals and 2 assists in just seven games with the Penguins. The Penguins also currently rank 7th in the NHL in goals per game, 9th in goals against, have the 6th best power play and 3rd best penalty kill in the league.
Lastly, they have beaten some of the top teams in the league handily. Against the three other division leaders, outside the Metropolitan Division (Tampa Bay, Nashville and Anaheim), the Penguins are a combined 4-1 outscoring these opponents 19 – 13. Here is a breakdown of how they have fared against all other divisions outside of their own.
|Record||Losses||Goals For||Goals Against|
|Atlantic||12 – 2 – 3||4 – 3 vs. TBL4 – 1 vs. MTL||59||37|
|Central||5 – 1 – 0||3 – 2 vs. DAL||21||9|
|Pacific||3 – 1 – 0||3 – 0 vs. VAN||12||8|
|Overall||20 – 4 – 3||92||54|
Overall, versus three quarters of the league the Penguins are an amazingly strong team who nearly outscores their opponents 2-1. However, these statistics drastically shift when they play against the opponents in the Metropolitan Division.
Trouble in the Metro
Those who have watched the Penguins all season understand that this is a Jekyll and Hyde story. Outside of the Metro the Penguins look like a, if not the, team to beat for the cup. However, intra-division play has become exceedingly frustrating for the Penguins as they look like a completely different team. Against Metropolitan foes the Penguins are a mediocre 6-8-4. Only Tampa Bay and Philadelphia have more losses to members of the Metropolitan Division. They have lost to every team within their division and have not looked good in the process. Here is a comparison of the Penguins play versus the Metro and the rest of the league.
|Record||Goals For||Goals Against||Penguins Shutout Opponents||Penguins Shutout by Opponents|
|Vs. Rest of League||20-4-3||92||54||5||1|
As you can see they have not only been drastically outscored, but were also shutout twice. They are just not producing offensively against the Metro this year. Also, their goalies have recorded just one shutout during intra-division play as opposed to five shutouts versus the rest of the league. Overall the team has not played their best hockey against the Metro. Surprisingly, these numbers do not even signify just how difficult Metropolitan play has been for the Penguins this season. In all but ONE of their eighteen games against Metropolitan foes this season the Penguins have trailed at some point during the game. They have been out-played, out-shot and most importantly out-hit in almost all of these games.
The Metropolitan Division have been excessively physical with the Penguins this season and are more than willing to engage in as many physical confrontations as the Penguins will oblige. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Well, in this case familiarity breeds contempt, which breeds fisticuffs. Four of the Penguins most notable fights this season happened against the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Devils and the certainly against the Flyers on Tuesday night. Tuesday nights game was one of the Penguins most physical games this season and was certainly exciting to watch as you can see from the highlights below.
The word is out on the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, rough them up and you can disrupt their play. That was supposed to be what the club hoped to remedy throughout the off-season. They looked to acquire players with grit and in many ways they did. The Penguins this season have not backed down from any of these opponents and new additions such as Bobby Farnham, Zach Sill, Blake Comeau and Steve Downie have been very physical during these games, but it has not been enough. The writing is on the wall in Pittsburgh and the Penguins have to figure out a way to play tough and physical WHILE scoring goals or they may find themselves with another early round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. So Penguins fans keep an eye on the Penguins play against the Metro during the second half of the season this year, if its more of the same it might be an early summer once again this year.