Penguins’ Path to Being a Top Contender This Season

4-6-2. That is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ record throughout their first 12 games of the season. This dismal start to the 2022-23 campaign leaves them second last in the Metropolitan Division, only ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They do not look like a playoff team right now and their inability to play 60 minutes has cost them leads that no contender should blow. On paper, they have the resources to compete with any team in the NHL and this poor start is no indication of their potential. The Penguins will need to turn it around soon if they want to be taken seriously, but what will it take for them to do that?

Penguins Need To Play With More Consistency

Consistency. That should be the Penguins’ objective if they want to get out of this slump and jump ahead in the standings. They have been unable to play a full 60-minute game and their struggles have consisted of poor starts and the inability to hold a lead. Captain Sidney Crosby stated the team’s troubles with starting games. “We’ve just got to be more determined and find a way to be better,” Crosby said. “If anything has been consistent, it’s our starts that we struggle with.”

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Penguins can figure out a way to come out strong and play hard until the end of the game, they will string wins together. If they can consistently do this for the duration of the season, they will find themselves playing in April and contending for the Stanley Cup.

Penguins Need to Stay Healthy

The injury bug has bitten the Penguins early on this season. It has disrupted Mike Sullivan’s lineup resulting in top players missing time throughout several games in October. Key wingers such as Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker are part of this group and have dealt with injuries that have impacted the team’s ability to produce offensively. At the bottom of the lineup, Teddy Blueger, who is a pivotal part of the fourth line, has yet to make his season debut due to an undisclosed injury. Several other players have also missed playing time causing instability throughout Sullivan’s lineup. To be consistent you have to be healthy and without health, the Penguins will have difficulty being a top team in the Metropolitan Division.

Contributions From All Four Lines

With four healthy lines, the Penguins can be one of the best teams in the league. This was proven early on in the season when they won their first three home games and scored six goals in each. They were producing and lines one through three were jelling prior to injuries, but as of late, they have struggled to win games.

Related: Penguins Can Get Back on Track in November with Healthy Lines

The Penguins’ top two lines will yield production throughout the year and the third line will be the supporting cast for Sullivan. With the return of Blueger, the fourth line should adjust, and whatever wingers he puts on that line need to find a way to contribute in the few minutes they play. All four lines have important roles and there needs to be stability in the lineup if the Penguins want to compete for the playoffs.

Defensive Improvements

The Penguins have given up the second most goals against in the Eastern Conference. Giving up this many goals is an underlying issue of why the team can’t hold onto a lead and finish games strong. While they can put pucks in the back of the net, it is proven that they have difficulties keeping pucks out of their own.

Brian Dumoulin Penguins
Brian Dumoulin, Pittsburgh Penguins, January 2, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Penguins can’t ignore their defensive issues any longer. Brian Dumoulin has been the worst-performing defenseman for the team but continues to play on the top pairing. Prior to last night’s (Nov. 5) game, he had been on the ice for 21 of the Penguins’ 41 goals allowed this season and has been the centerpiece of many defensive breakdowns leading to goals by the opposition. On the right side, Kris Letang has the most points on the club’s defense and he is a significant piece for the team. Sullivan’s defensemen have to improve and Letang needs to lead the back end to get back on track.

Goaltending Needs to Improve

Goaltending has been a concern for the Penguins. Issues have surfaced and both goalies have shown weaknesses early in the season. Starter Tristan Jarry has let in approximately 4.8 more goals than the average goalie would, indicating that he is well below the league mean, and backup Casey DeSmith is 0-3-1 with a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.25. The Penguins’ tandem needs to improve if the team wants to find success this season.

The Penguins’ path to being a playoff contender this season won’t be easy. There are several barriers that have impacted their ability to win, raising concern about making the playoffs. Their seven-game losing streak needs to end in order for them to regain confidence and a consistent game is needed to compete in all three periods. While staying healthy, all four lines and the defense have to contribute and play a solid game. They won’t be able to do any of the above if they can’t keep the puck out of their net, though. As such, Jarry has to find his game if he wants to contribute to the team’s success. If the stars align and the formula works, they will be a top contender this spring.