This is becoming something of a broken record here in Pittsburgh. The Penguins inability to score more than one or two goals a game.
On Monday night in Sunrise the Florida Panthers held the Pens to just one goal on 32 shots. Most of those were usually right into the logo of starting netminder Al Montoya.
Chris Kunitz finally broke through late in the third period to tie the game at one apiece on a shot that surprised Montoya; hitting the underside of the crossbar and falling into the goal.
Overtime didn’t provide nearly the glorious opportunities that we’ve come to expect from the Penguins this season during 3-on-3 hockey. Their best chances were provided by Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust.
There is a saying that if weren’t for bad luck there would be no luck at all.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are living proof of that right now.
I’ve seen what lack of effort looks like from this team. The scarcity of scoring this season does not stem from that malady.
I’ve seen boneheaded decision-making from the Pens in years past. Drop-passes to no one in particular. Dumping the puck in to the offensive zone while a winger is standing flat-footed at the opposing blue line. Fleury inexplicably leaving his net to play a puck. The list can continue.
Monday night Pittsburgh came out a bit flat. That will happen from time to time over the course of an 82-game season. After the first 10-15 minutes of the game the Pens picked it up. They created in the offensive zone and cycled the puck well. In truth, it was a nip and tuck game most of the way.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, the only luck on their side last night (and for the past three games, really) was no luck at all. Every shot taken seemed to be absorbed by the middle of Montoya’s body. If not that, then a Panther would get a blade or a skate or stick shaft in the way of a shot and deflect it away from the net.
That’s puck luck.
At its worst.
No Lack of Effort
If there is one thing to hang on to this season as a Pens fan, it’s this team’s never-say-die attitude. A welcome reversal in mentality from seasons passed.
The shots and chances generated Monday night were quality. The third and fourth lines more than did their job in terms of puck possession, cycling in the offensive zone, and creating momentum. Something that has gone on since the injuries to Nick Bonino and, more recently, Eric Fehr.
The call-ups from Wilkes Barre/Scranton have been nothing short of energetic and have at times provided some much-needed momentum. Guys like the aforementioned Rust, Connor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Kevin Porter have shown that they can not only play at the NHL level, but can have an impact.
For the call-ups, it is more about effort than scoring. For third- and fourth-liners in the NHL, you need to give your team a momentum boost by cycling and possessing the puck while wearing down the opposing defense. A goal is the proverbial icing on the cake. Playing in the absence of some very talented and gritty guys like Fehr and Bonino, the WB/S guys have done yeoman’s work.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Is Sidney Crosby back?
I dare say, more so than in the past four years.
This is pre-concussion Crosby.
If nothing else on Monday night, he was a man possessed along the boards. At one point, Sid even played the puck (successfully I might add, to another teammate) from the seat of his pants behind the Florida cage.
THAT is 87. That is Crosby.
His notoriously slow start raised a lot of eyebrows around the NHL. Is Crosby done? Has he passed his prime? Does he still have the desire to play?
What we’ve seen from the Penguin captain has been an almost-defiant display of desire, ability, and talent since the turn of 2016.
However, it seems that how Crosby goes, so go the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is scoring more for sure (12G-10A, 22 points during an 11-game scoring streak that ended last Wednesday night against the Rangers), but the proof is in the pudding: he hasn’t scored in the past three games, and the Pens have tallied just three goals in their past two contests (they were shut out by the Rangers in the first of that three-game stretch).
So What Gives?
There are those in these parts who claim the Penguins “sold their soul” to win The Cup in 2009. Then there are those who think that the Pens sold their soul in the years since 2009 trying to win The Cup yet again.
Hence this season. Hence the past four seasons.
I’m not that superstitious.
We’re seeing glimpses of what this team can do when clicking on all cylinders. Six goals against Ottawa and a natural hat trick for Crosby. Six goals against Anaheim; one of the hottest teams in the league at the time.
Former head coach Dan Bylsma lost the room after the 2012 playoff series debacle against the Flyers. He was fired two years too late.
More recent former head coach Mike Johnston I feel never had the room with which to begin. A junior coach with minimal assistant coach experience at the NHL level didn’t exactly instill confidence in the players of the past one-plus seasons.
Current bench boss Mike Sullivan is different. For starters, you can sense the attention and respect he commands from his players when he speaks. Perhaps more importantly, he has cut the apron strings off the superstars’ creativity. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin now seem more free to let their respective talent take over when on the attack. A far cry from the restrictive, defensive-minded approach of Johnston.
Unfortunately the new-found freedom hasn’t quite yielded the results Penguins’ fans are looking for; in droves.
Puck Luck has eluded these Penguins almost all season long. The law of averages says that has to turn around at some point.
I’ll take that puck luck beginning in mid-April.