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Kingerski: The Penguins are Lost, This Team is Lacking

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Bryan Rust

“It’s tough. It’s tough to break everything down in one little sound bite for you, as far as …” Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said, trailing off. “I don’t think it’s urgency. I think we know the situation. We know that we need to get points. And I don’t think it’s that.”

The Penguins won four of their first five games and scored six goals in each of the wins. Success came early and quickly this season. Since then, it has been a much different song. On more nights than not, the Penguins have been unable to finish teams or outplay them.

In late October, Jeff Carter said this to PHN after they lost to the Calgary Flames:

“Sometimes when (scoring a lot of goals) happens early (in the season), you kind of get in that mindset that everything will continue to go that way. And I think part of that … maybe we got caught in that a little bit here.”

Since those four wins to begin the season, they’ve won twice in 11 games.

Player after player has said they need to play simply. Kris Letang used that term as he and PHN sat in empty locker stalls after the game. To his credit, he was candid and forthcoming about his perspective on the team’s struggles.

But sometimes, things are harder to see from the inside looking out. Pick the term you prefer. Urgency. Intensity. The Pittsburgh Penguins visibly lack them for sustained periods. The team has not followed through on the requirements to win games. When pushed, they have not yet pushed back.

Sure, they play well for 15 minutes in sporadic intervals, and their talent, superior to that of most teams, allows those 15 minutes to sometimes keep them in games or surge for a win.

“We don’t look to analyze game-by-game,” Letang said. “We look at it period-by-period. It’s not a bad one, a good one. It’s the fact that we don’t play 60 minutes. And just those 10 minutes, they cost us … So if you give them two-on-ones, three-on-twos, four-on-twos, eventually it’s going to break.”

The breakdowns were bewildering on Tuesday in the Penguins’ 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were a few uncovered players who were near or raced to the Penguins’ net, and they scored uncontested goals.

Crosby’s line was on the ice for every Toronto goal.

The top defense pairing was on the ice for three of four even-strength goals.

“I think there we have moments in the game where we’re playing really well. We gain momentum, we generate scoring chances, and we’re playing on our toes,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “You know, we’re dictating the terms out there, and then there are lapses in the game. When we break down, the breakdowns are egregious, and they’re hard to recover from.”

They took two third-period leads against the Montreal Canadiens Saturday, then gave each away within a minute. They scored and relaxed, but their opponent didn’t acquiesce.

Statistically, the Penguins are one of the league’s worst third-period teams. They have scored 18 third-period goals, which ranks 14th in the NHL, but have allowed 24.

That ranks 30th.

“I’d say the last 10 games, we were not winning. And you’re trying to get back into games, and you’re forcing it, and it opens the game up,” Letang told PHN. “That’s one way to allow more goals. The fact that we’ve not been in control of games lately, the games open up in the third. But overall, I think it’s just the fact that the game is 60 minutes. You cannot take five minutes or 10 minutes off over that 60 minutes.”

Only the hapless Anaheim Ducks and chaos-ridden Vancouver Canucks are worse. Those teams also chase the game in the third, but the unresolved question for the Penguins is: How are they getting to that point so easily?

The NHL season is no longer “early.” Thanksgiving is one week away, and stats show that teams out of the playoff seedings on that day have only a 25% chance of reaching the postseason.

It’s not as if injuries have racked the Penguins. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been healthy. So, too, has Kris Letang. Except for a few brief illnesses, only Teddy Blueger has accrued the man-games lost stat.

No, it’s not injuries. And it’s not a problem jelling. This is primarily the same team as last season and the seasons before.

This team has a tired feel. Lethargic. Teams that need to win skate a step quicker. They fight for pucks in the first, second and third periods. Teams that feel a hunger don’t consistently disappear for long stretches. The Penguins lack urgency, even if everyone on the inside, from Crosby to Letang, and Sullivan, disagrees.

A team with urgency doesn’t suffer such regular and catastrophic breakdowns. It doesn’t repeatedly take 10 minutes off.

Perhaps 16 straight playoff appearances will make it tougher, to the point of incredulity, to worry about missing them. Perhaps the Hall of Fame talent in the locker room provides a never-ending fountain of optimism that they just need to play 60 minutes.

We’ve seen how good the team can be, but why they are not remains a mystery.

There could be a lot of reasons, and perhaps they do transcend a soundbite. The Pittsburgh Penguins are being challenged by opponents and the situation. They were challenged by a pair of bad losses in Edmonton and Calgary, only to follow them up with losses against non-playoff teams in Seattle and Vancouver.

They beat the injury-riddled and equally struggling Washington Capitals, then clamped down on the Toronto Maple Leafs, only to follow those wins up with another stinker in Montreal and at home against Toronto.

The Penguins are the more talented team, compared to most of those opponents.

Yet those opponents have shown more desire and intensity.

As the losses pile up, there are probably many reasons, some known and some unknown. But the only thing for sure is that the Penguins are lacking.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
15 days ago

Well you all got your wish and the band is back together and for a long time! they are old, slow, and soft.

James
James
15 days ago

‘The band’ isn’t the problem.

JICS
15 days ago

Stephen- Who said that we “all” got our wish – Far from it!

Edgar
Edgar
15 days ago

I wanted them to trade Letang and Malkin 3 years ago. And I love those guys.

Chaz
Chaz
15 days ago

That was Hextall’s wish they will not even sniff the playoffs

Pepper
Pepper
15 days ago

I don’t think it’s complicated. In pro sports old = slow and injury prone. Small = soft and injury prone. The Pens are one of the oldest and smallest teams in the league. The injuries have not come yet but they will. The slowness and softness are already evident. On top of that, youth generally means lack of success and a drive to make history. The Pens’ core has their place in history secured. They can say they are hungry all they want but actions speak louder than words and history says words are not to be believed. These guys… Read more »

JICS
15 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

Pepper, I am amazed at your third paragraph (the last half particularly). You are SO right on! I could write a lot more about that!
For whoever asked “where is Rust”? I’ll tell you one thing – he’s not where he belongs. Rakell should be on the top line! Rust does not play Crosby’s game. I wonder if anyone noticed who the top line was when we played all our good games at the beginning? And I wonder why Sullivan made the change? I can guess pretty easily.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
15 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

The one person out of the big 3 who’s actually showing up is the problem? But for resigning Malkin, this team would be among the playoff teams?

Well, that certainly is ONE take.

Phil
Phil
15 days ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

Thank you for LOGIC! cant say that to this fan base to them everything that goes wrong is malkin and letang fault. Forget the other players. Forget TEAM and the entire roster. It’s all malkin and letang. Its ridiculous and has been for years. We win he gets no credit we lose it’s all his fault. No objective analysis Just pure hatred! Sad.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
15 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

Malkin lowkey playing the best of the big 3 in the past 10 days… . . . … …….. .. .. ..

James
James
15 days ago

I think there are a few things. First. The goaltending has not been great. But it isnt poor. Second. Where the hell is Bryan Rust?? Third. And I hate to say it. But I REALLY think Mike Sullivan’s system has these guys in an uninspired rut. But im not in the room, so my perspective is from a birds eye view. All that being said, they had some GREAT opportunities on offense and really didn’t look all that bad generally speaking. Give the maple leafs credit. They played better In a few areas and had a goaltender that had something… Read more »

Mark
Mark
15 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Malaise.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
15 days ago
Reply to  James

maybe they should watch NJ Devils’ highlights lmao

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
15 days ago

Kinda of a stale team- they still arent good in front of goal goaltending has been blah, and they have slowed down. They need a bold move to shake up the make up and they def won’t do it. 59 is most tradable asset that would bring assets back that would help this team. The problem is they dont have the right GM to do it.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
15 days ago
Reply to  Rich Filardi

There’s as much chance of trading #59 as there is of splitting up #87 and #59, no matter how much those two are stinking up the joint together.

teamquebec
teamquebec
15 days ago

That’s funny we never read THE name we should when it comes trying to explain what is going on with this team… Kris Letang! He’s been the worst player on this team all season long by a mile! Of the 7 defensemen who played this year so far, ONE is in the minus… Guess who?? Your good friend Letang! -10!!!! No goal! Can’t run the power play anymore, icing machine, giveaway machine, shot blocked machine ( his shots are blocked), he’s a pilon on defense, never at the right place, throwing the puck everywhere… Look at his shifts carefully and… Read more »

John B
John B
15 days ago
Reply to  teamquebec

couldnt agree more. He’s no paul coffey and is a def liability. How many times is he chasinging his man down the ice,our is out of position in the o zone. Could have been goood trade bait

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
15 days ago

Frankly, for as much as people rightly talk of an uninspired Rust, Crosby and Guentzel are a little too comfortable together right now. The coaching staff eventually will relent and flip Rust and Rakell. Which makes sense, since it was stupid not to go to the original top 6 that was killing it when everyone returned from injury. That said, I’d flip BOTH of Crosby’s and Malkin’s wingers. Zucker is playing out of his mind. Rakell is busting it all over out there. Maybe what those two do together will help snap Crosby out of his funk. As to Malkin,… Read more »

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
15 days ago

As much as the top 6 needs personnel adjustments, the power play does too.

Move one is to flip put in Petry for Letang, who’s whole “pretend Malkin isn’t an option” approach makes things easier on a PK than the Pens PP already does.

Move two is Guentzel and Rust off and Zucker and Rakell on. Best two at any given moment of those four should be the other two forwards on the PP. And at this moment, no question Zucker and Rakell are playing harder, are better puck retrievers, provide more support, and screen goalies.

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 days ago

Addition by subtraction. The last cup they won, tanger wasn’t in the line up. He breeds entitlement and laziness, with baffling decision making. He’s not young or fast enough to make up for his mistakes anymore. HERES THE FIX: 1. Bring back grit like Tanev, trade Carter if necessary, I think ZAR was good too and we should re acquire him if possible. 2. Bench Tanger or send to AHL, he needs to adjust his game, and needs major coaching. 3. Trade Kap and Zucker while they are healthy. Get younger, hungrier, and more grit. 4. We might need a… Read more »

Uros
Uros
15 days ago
Reply to  Anonymous

You are confused. Tanger wasn’t playing when they won their penultimate cup, not their last one.

John
John
14 days ago
Reply to  Uros

Untrue, he missed the most recent Cup. He even scored the winning goal in the clincher vs. San Jose in 2016.

Clyde
Clyde
15 days ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Thats a good plan.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
15 days ago
Reply to  Anonymous

“i think it’s funny how” multiple commenters think bringing back ZAR is going to fix the pens

Bill C.
Bill C.
15 days ago

i know we just gave Sullivan a contract extension. i believe it’s time for a coaching shake up.

Fredrick
Fredrick
15 days ago

I think the time has finally come. Hextall needs to get out of his comfort zone and make a shake up trade. This team is in desperate need and has been in a desperate need for a shake up. The more he sits back and waits the deeper we go into the hole.

Clyde
Clyde
15 days ago

They stayed with the same players and coach for too long. If you cant get out of the first round four years in a row then that should tell you something. I think they kept the core together to keep the seats full. It might get uglier this season and how many seats will be full then.

Jackmccrory
Jackmccrory
15 days ago

Just think only another six years of watching Letang play that way.

Alexander Olsen
Alexander Olsen
15 days ago

I remember when hockey players used to take responsibility. Sidney Crosby Kris Letang would’ve been saying this loss is on me. I don’t remember reading that they said that in the post game comments but they were on the ice for all or almost all of the goals against. Kris Letang is playing nothing like last year that’s probably the Penguins biggest problem he’s definitely in a rut (not only is he not defending, he had a golden opportunity to score and tie the game or go up I can’t remember, alone in front of the net last night on… Read more »

Last edited 15 days ago by Alexander Olsen
Rob
Rob
15 days ago

Letang obviously lost a step this year, He’s been struggling and with his usual blocked shots and his terrible minus rating.

Rob
Rob
15 days ago

Time to dump Rust to the 3rd line and move Rakell up with Crosby and bring up Heinen to the second line to help his goal slump he’s in. Put Rakell on the top power play unit and Rust to second. Time to experiment and get someone on that team that hits besides Petry Zucker and Archibald.

wesman33
wesman33
15 days ago
Reply to  Rob

The only positive for this team right now is the second line. That’s the last thing I’d change unless you switch Rust n Rakell bring Ty smith up bench Letang

Rob
Rob
15 days ago
Reply to  wesman33

Rust needs to get more physical along the boards. Every time I saw him going towards the boards he never took the opportunity to hit someone and just peeled off.

JICS
15 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Has anyone noticed Malkin’s number (or lack of) hits or blocks at the end of a game lately? The only time he hits anyone is if theyhit him and he loses his temper!

Lee
Lee
14 days ago

Get Dumoulin off the ice!!!

Dennis Moore
Dennis Moore
14 days ago

The opposite seems to be happening in W/B? We are an “old” team and the play resembles that. Time to bring in some young, fresh, and challenging blood. Let them make young mistakes– no different than what’s happening now.

Jmacgreg
Jmacgreg
14 days ago

My thought for the past 6 years is get rid of the coach. Yes, he won 2 cups with players who were perfect together, were in their prime, were hungry for the wins. They didn’t really need a coach. Sullivan has been out coached in so many situations, in so many playoffs, it’s unbelievable. He can’t make adjustments to the game. Look at the power play…unchanged in all those years. I swear he’s told players not to shoot the puck. Pass, pass, pass, lose it. In times of stress he again throws out his big guns who have played more… Read more »