Penguins Have Some Serious Issues to Correct

The Pittsburgh Penguins have made the playoffs for the past 16 years in a row. This is the longest active postseason streak in all North American sports. However, the Penguins have been struggling for the past few weeks which has fans starting to wonder if this will be the year the streak ends. If Pittsburgh is planning on making a playoff appearance this season there are several things that need to change rather quickly.

Slow Starts 

For the past few weeks, the Penguins have not looked good at the start of games. There has been a total lack of focus and attention to detail within the first few minutes, which has cost the team dearly. On Jan. 26 in the game against the Washington Capitals, the Capitals scored first on the power play when captain Alex Ovechkin was left wide open in his office at the left faceoff dot. Washington went on to win the game 3-2 in the shootout. On Jan. 28 in the 6-4 loss to the San Jose Sharks, it was more of the same story as the Sharks scored first when forward Michael Eyssimont was left all alone in front of the net.

Unfortunately, these slow starts are becoming a trend in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have also been giving up goals at the end of periods. They were leading the Sharks 2-1 towards the end of the first period when defenseman Erik Karlsson was left alone in front of the net and scored with 6.5 seconds left in the period. During the beginning of games and at the end of periods, the Penguins seem to be on autopilot. This is a big reason why so many of their games through the month of January went to overtime. This is a serious problem that the team must correct if they have any hope of making the playoffs. 

Defensive Struggles 

The Penguins’ defense has not been good lately. To be fair, it has been short a few key players due to injuries including Kris Letang who was out for almost a month. Jan Rutta has also been missing from the defensive lineup for almost a month with no set return date. 

Jan Rutta Pittsburgh Penguins
Jan Rutta, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, there is simply no excuse for the defensive performance that was on display throughout the month of January. In the loss to the Sharks, the Penguins not only allowed a goal in the first two minutes of the game, but also gave up a few goals due to bad defensive awareness. Late in the third period, defenseman Pierre-Oliver Joseph made a bad pass in the neutral zone which the Sharks took the other way for a goal. 

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San Jose exposed what is at the root of the defensive struggles for Pittsburgh and that is bad defensive zone coverage. Several times during the game, Marcus Pettersson and Jeff Petry were both caught chasing one player behind the net which led to a couple of goals for the Sharks. This combined with the soft defense in front of the net is why the Penguins have been coming up short.


Starting goaltender Tristan Jarry was injured in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2, and although he returned on Jan. 22 against the New Jersey Devils, he was quickly sidelined and is now listed as day-to-day. Backup goalie Casey DeSmith has been filling in between the pipes while Jarry recovers. DeSmith had a rocky start to the season, and unfortunately things have not gotten better. In the 22 games he has played this year, he has a record of 7-10-4 with a 3.35 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins
Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On Jan. 10, DeSmith was pulled from the game against the Vancouver Canucks after giving up three goals in the first seven minutes. He was replaced by Dustin Tokarski, who has spent most of the season in Wilkes-Barre with the Scranton Penguins. DeSmith’s game lacks any form of consistency and if he is going to continue in Jarry’s absence, the Penguins need to see better performances from him.

Playoff Bound?

If the Penguins do not make some changes to their current game plan their 16-year playoff run will end. They have to start playing for a full 60 minutes, and the defense has to start making some stops. If Jarry is not ready to return, they have to seriously consider whether or not DeSmith will remain in the net. Pittsburgh will return from the All-Star Break on Tuesday, Feb. 7 against the Colorado Avalanche, and with the playoffs just around the corner, they will need to play with urgency to secure a spot.

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