The Pittsburgh Penguins are not flush with goal-scoring snipers in the lineup anymore. The Penguins have become a blue-collar lunch-pail team with a snarl and smile as they work the wall and grind opponents. These aren’t the graceful Penguins of past generations. These are the intense, fast and honest Pittsburgh Penguins, and Alex Galchenyuk.
Perhaps I wasn’t blunt enough last week. Perhaps the between the lines reference was a little soft, much like the Penguins first-period performance over the past two weeks. In nine games, six since he returned from an injury which cost him most of October, Galchenyuk has just three points and a heavy minus-four rating.
Galchenyuk is not fitting in with the Penguins.
The Penguins and coaches have had talented right wingers on the wrong side of the puck, but not one who wasn’t putting points on the stat sheet, too. Time is running short for Galchenyuk to make his mark on the Penguins. Or, at least fit in. He has the ability.
“I think it’s more than (shooting). He’s got to be more focused on playing the game the right way,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.
Yeah, I take that as a criticism and an admission the player is not focused on playing the right way. Galchenyuk’s natural east-west game is stuck in contrast to the team concept. His style or effort would have fit well under past head coaches or GMs when the Penguins chose to employ wingers who played a skillful game or at least tried to do so.
Things are different now. The Penguins play 100mph and they play hard.
“…competing on pucks, winning puck battles, being strong on the wall. All of the details of the game,” Sullivan said. “For me, if a goal scorer struggles, just based on my experience, part of it is taking the focus off of the scoring.”
Through his first nine games, Galchenyuk’s “details” are not present, either. He’s not winning the wall battles. He has two takeaways, but six giveaways. Despite the Penguins status as a league leader in scoring-chance ratios and suppression, Galchenyuk is one of the few Penguins with a negative scoring chance rate (48%) and has been on the ice for more goals-against.
Tuesday night was the first game in which Galchenyuk played without the aid of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He’s also been a member of the Penguins power play, usually in the shooter’s circle on the second unit. So, it cannot be said Galchenyuk has been buried or not been given proper opportunities.
Sullivan continued on the thought process that Galchenyuk has to work harder in other aspects of the game and not focus on that golden snipe.
“Part of it is taking the focus off of the scoring and focusing on what you can control. And that’s just how you play the game, how you think the game, how hard you compete for pucks. Just being focused on that next play and I think goals will come,” Sullivan said.
To paraphrase, Sullivan said Galchenyuk has to play hard, battle for pucks and compete harder. Tuesday night, Galchenyuk didn’t have an even strength shot on goal.
The Penguins need a few more goals, especially early. Their first-period statistics don’t mesh with their aggressive and often dominating work in the second and third periods. The power play could also use a few more wicked shots on net. And Galchenyuk happens to possess one of the best, if not the best wrister on the team, but it has been under wraps far too much this season.
Last December through February, Galchenyuk proved he could play an aggressive, tough game when he and centerman Jordan Weal had a mini-tear for the Arizona Coyotes. Galchenyuk had 25 points including 12 goals until Arizona traded Weal to Philadelphia at the February trade deadline. PHN did a full film room review.
Galchenyuk’s $4.9 million salary-cap hit and his contract expire after this season. If things don’t begin to click for Galchenyuk who was moved off of Malkin’s line last week, the Penguins will surely be able to find a taker. Four and three seasons ago, Galchenyuk scored 30 and 20 goals, respectively. He has the shot and he has the tools.
Now the Pittsburgh Penguins have to find out if he’s willing to apply those tools within the framework of the Penguins new construction. Perhaps a team with a different construction or framework would see the value.