Shea-ved Ice: Red Flags Emerging With Playoffs Looming
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Penguins’ struggles continued last night during a 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
To me, there are a couple of red flags with this team as they prepare for their final 10 games of the regular season.
First, the team needs to be better at even strength. You can’t rely solely on your power play to win the Stanley Cup. You might be able to steal a couple of games with it, but not 16.
One alarming trend has been the discrepancy in even strength shots on net recently.
The team has been outshot nine times at even strength this month. In fact, the team has been outshot outright in eight of their last 13 games.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Penguins have fared at even strength this month:
March 1 – Chicago Blackhawks outshoot Pens 30-22, (40-32 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: James Neal
March 4 – Nashville Predators outshoot Pens 16-13 (19-19 tie for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Matt Niskanen, Chris Kunitz
March 6 – San Jose Sharks outshoot Pens 29-18 (47-22 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Olli Maatta
March 7 – Anaheim Ducks outshoot Pens 28-11 (31-17 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Deryk Engelland
March 10 – Washington Capitals outshoot Pens 23-16 (33-20 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Chris Kunitz (2)
March 11 – Pens outshoot Capitals 27-26 (34-32 Pens for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Jussi Jokinen, Sidney Crosby
March 15 – Philadelphia Flyers outshoot Pens 34-20 (40-25 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Zero
March 16 – Flyers outshoot Pens 24-19 (35-23 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Jayson Megna
March 18 – Pens outshoot Dallas Stars 25-24 (33-32 Stars for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Sidney Crosby (2), Chris Kunitz, Lee Stempniak
March 20 – Pens outshoot Detroit Red Wings 25-21 (43-30 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Lee Stempniak, Evgeni Malkin, Craig Adams
March 22 – Tampa Bay Lightning outshot Pens 19-16 (29-24 Pens for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Evgeni Malkin
March 23 – Pens outshot the St. Louis Blues 23-22 (33-27 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Zero
March 25 – Phoenix Coyotes outshoot Pens 22-20 (29-25 for the game).
Even Strength Goals: Taylor Pyatt
The second red flag is the utter lack of scoring help from the bottom six forwards.
So far this month, the Penguins have scored a total of 31 goals. That total does not count the team goal awarded for the shootout win against Anaheim.
Here’s how the goals break down:
- 21 even strength goals
- 9 power play goals
- 1 shorthanded goal
Here is the breakdown of the individual even strength goal scorers:
- Chris Kunitz – 4
- Sidney Crosby – 3
- Evgeni Malkin – 2
- Lee Stempniak – 2
- Matt Niskanen – 2
- Craig Adams – 1
- Brooks Orpik – 1
- Jayson Megna – 1
- Jussi Jokinen – 1
- Deryk Engelland – 1
- Olli Maatta – 1
- James Neal – 1
- Taylor Pyatt -1
Of the 21 even strength goals:
- The Penguins’ bottom six forwards were responsible for only three: Megna, Adams and Pyatt.
- Six came from defensemen.
- The top line was responsible for nine
Note: Engelland’s goal against the Ducks came while he was in the lineup as a defenseman.
Now, there are plenty of explanations for this. You could factor injuries into the equation and no one would blame you.
You could also figure in the chemistry being out of whack due to injuries and the additions of Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. Nothing against Goc and Stempniak, but like the guys being called up from the AHL, there’s an adjustment period, which is only natural.
Maybe help will be on the way too. Evgeni Malkin might be back just before the playoff start. Beau Bennett is on a conditioning assignment in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Paul Martin has another X-ray coming up this weekend. Kris Letang has been practicing, but there’s no word if he’ll return this season.
That’s all good news, but the fact of the matter is the Penguins need to start getting some offense from guys on the third and fourth lines.
I’m not saying they need to chip in multiple goals a game, but when the top two lines aren’t lighting the lamp, someone needs to step up.
Three goals from the bottom six in 13 games is completely unacceptable.
Pens Not Matching Opponents’ Compete Level
Another reason for the recent struggles takes a little bit of explaining, but it’s plausible.
The teams the Penguins have played this month are fighting for their playoff lives. As a result, they are desperate for any points they can get because time is running out fast.
The Penguins have essentially had the Metropolitan Division locked up since the second week of October. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly.
Anyway, all but one team the Penguins have played this month were either sitting in a playoff position or were within a couple of points of qualifying.
That lone team was the Nashville Predators, who currently sit nine points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
For the past month, the Penguins have not been able to match their opponents’ compete and desperation levels. Regardless of the injury situation, the team is still competing like it’s October.
Guess what? It’s not.
Crosby even admitted that was the case with last night’s loss to the Coyotes.
“I don’t think there’s anyone feeling sorry for us, but I think that still doesn’t allow us not to have the right type of effort and work ethic. As far as executing and things like that, it might be a little different with missing so many guys, but I think the work ethic still has to be there. There’s no excuse for that,” Crosby said.
In case you were wondering, only three of the Penguins’ final 10 games will be played against teams currently not in a playoff race.
Power Play Struggles
Now, what about the Penguins’ reliance on the power play to come through and bail them out?
For the season, the Penguins’ power play percentage of 24.4 leads the league. Simple math shows the Penguins haven’t been as successful on the power play this month.
Pittsburgh has had 52 power play opportunities this month and has scored 10 times. That equates out to a 19.23 success rate, which is about five percent lower than their season rate.
The number for March is also inflated due to a three power play goal performance against the Lightning this past weekend. In fact, the Penguins’ power play has been shutout six times. That includes a four-game stretch where the power play didn’t light the lamp once.
The Penguins have 10 games left in the season to figure this out or it could be another early exit in the playoffs.
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice