Last week the Pittsburgh Penguins made their three game road trip to Western Canada to face off against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. They could not have started any better with two shutout victories and winning by a combined score of 6-0 in those two games. However, in the tail end of back to back games they were completely outplayed by the Canucks and were themselves shutout 5-0 on Saturday night. At first glance this appears to be a very successful road trip. The Penguins outscored their opponents 6-5, Marc-Andre Fleury produced back to back shutouts pushing his season total to an NHL leading eight for the year, they finally have the majority of their top players back in the lineup and as Meat Loaf said “two out of three ain’t bad.” Yet, there are still some areas of concern for Pittsburgh and they were highlighted once again this past week.
After an outstanding start to the season the Penguins offense has been sporadic ever since. Through the Penguins first thirteen games this season they had a combined 55 goals, averaging 4.2 goals per game, and were not shutout once over that span. Now, this is obviously a pace that neither the Penguins nor any other team is likely to ever maintain over an entire season, but the Penguins offense has dramatically stalled ever since. Since they were first shutout by the New York Rangers on November 11th the most goals that the Penguins have put up during any other thirteen game span this season is 36, which they only did once. When glancing at the NHL team statistics the Penguins are currently 11th in team scoring averaging 2.81 goals per game. However, once one removes the goals from their strong start they are averaging just 2.4 goals per game, and in keeping with the 13 game span analysis they average 2.52 goals over all 13 game spans this season. So, in actuality the Penguins are scoring roughly 2.5 goals per game since November 11 which would rank them 23rd in the NHL tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
|Goals Per 13 game span||28||29||30||31||32||33||34||35||36|
|Number of Times reached since Nov. 11||1||1||2||3||2||6||6||5||1|
|Goals Per Game Average||2.153846||2.230769
This struggle in scoring was displayed again this weekend as the Penguins averaged two goals per game. Just as troubling is that they barely put up two goals against the 29th ranked team in goals against, the Edmonton Oilers, and were shutout for the sixth time since November against a goalie, Ryan Miller, whom the Penguins have dominated in the recent past.
Consistency and Chemistry
Here I do not mean consistency in scoring, which was just discussed, but consistency in play and chemistry in the lineup. Jim Rutherford has made plenty of moves already this season, almost all very well received by Penguins fans. However, this was the first three game span in which all the Penguins top players and new additions played together on the ice. To their credit, Sidney Crosby, David Perron and Chris Kunitz are working magic together, as exhibited here:
However, the chemistry with the rest of the team and the lineup in general appears lacking at times and must improve as the Penguins approach the playoffs. Mike Johnston has his work cut out for him in finding the best lineups, beyond the first line as Kunitz, Crosby and Perron appear to be improving with every game. If production and chemistry does not increase the Penguins might look to make a last minute deal before the trade deadline, which is always a gamble for the chemistry of the team, just look at the St. Louis Blues last season.
Overall some warning signs are there concerning the Penguins production and chemistry after their terrific start to the season. The team must find the right lineups and play more offensively aggressive in hopes of increasing their scoring production over the last third of the season. It will also be difficult for them to do so this week as they play two teams ranked in the top five of goals against average in Chicago who is currently ranked 2nd with a 2.26 GAA and Detroit, who is expected to get Jimmy Howard back, ranked 5th with a 2.36 GAA. I was inclined to come into this week writing about the reasons why Penguins fans should look at the Western Canada trip as an outstanding success, but I am still weary of the team’s lack of production and inconsistency in play and within the lineup. This should be an interesting week ahead for the Penguins and I look forward to seeing how their play develops down the home stretch.