The Pittsburgh Penguins are obviously outplaying opponents. They have bombarded, peppered, swarmed or otherwise overwhelmed opponents over the past two weeks yet they have not deviated from the same script, which begins with a multi-goal deficit, followed by a furious comeback. Just like Friday night in New Jersey. Just like Tuesday night in New York.
Even Tom Cruise movies have more variance. yet, it’s been the same story for five games. It’s been six games if you count the Edmonton Oilers game two weeks ago in which they trailed early but never mounted a comeback.
You have to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and for the Pittsburgh Penguins without Sidney Crosby, it won’t come easy. Things are going to get even tougher for the next six weeks without Crosby and the Penguins are just beginning that journey.
Yet frustration is already starting.
“Yeah,” Penguins winger Jake Guentzel exhaled. “It’s tough. The other night we played really well, we’re just not getting the bounces right now, but I think if we play like that most nights we’ll come out on top.”
That is the conventional wisdom. Outshoot, out chance enough opponents and the puck luck will even out and chances will become game-winners. The belief is not unique to the Penguins, though the level of chances and ability to control games without winning is somewhat unique. Not many teams can get after opponents with speed and physicality like the Penguins.
But there is that pesky matter of finishing. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan chose the right side of the emotion, highlight the positive.
“We’ve shown plenty of evidence that we do score. There’s been plenty of nights that we’ve generated a fair amount of goals throughout the course of the season,” Sullivan said. “Some nights, like tonight, it was one of those nights where it was tough to find the back of the net.”
It was tough to light the lamp against Mackenzie Blackwood, the New Jersey Devils goalie who had a .895 save percentage before the game. Tuesday night, the Penguins struggled for much of the game to slip one past New York Rangers netminder Alexandar Georgiev who currently has a .906 save percentage and a goals-against-average above 3.00.
That Guentzel exhale spoke volumes. He will be one of the primary sources of offense without Crosby. Guentzel had several good looks at the net but couldn’t sneak one past Blackwood.
“One goal is not enough. We understand we played well and we had good chances to score,” Penguins de facto top center Evgeni Malkin said. “(We have to) forget this game and play (Saturday).”
Malkin fed Guentzel for several scoring chances including winning a few faceoffs directly to Guentzel in the offensive zone. Guentzel had four chances and the Malkin line had 80% of the shots and shot attempts while on the ice. All stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Penguins need to find victories despite Crosby, Kris Letang, and Patric Hornqvist being out of the lineup. They’re in the middle of the Eastern Conference with Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. Philadelphia is winning games and is in the top three of the Metro Division.
“I do think there has been plenty of evidence throughout the early part of this season that would suggest that when we play this way, we’re hard to play against, we’re cutting down the quality and quantity of the scoring chances against, significantly. And we’re generating a fair amount,” Sullivan said.
He’s correct. The Penguins can be hard to play against, they generate more than their share of scoring chances and they suppress the opposition. But until the red light flashes more often in the opponent’s end, the Penguins will be struggling. PHN has frequently accentuated the positives of this Penguins team, its style and the underlying numbers which show they dominated games.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins have to score, or frustration will rise and then scoring becomes even more difficult. And you know it won’t come easy.