ANAHEIM — It was a historic drubbing. Never before in the Expansion era that began with the arrival of six additional teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, had a team been so helpless as to barf up 10 goals against in consecutive games.
The Penguins gave the jobber a few shots early in the match before finishing them off with a few elbow drops and a leap off the top by the middle of the second period in beating the San Jose Sharks 10-2 at SAP Arena.
Sure, it can be tough to gauge a team when the Penguins steamroll a team that is a total mess.
Sidenote: That was the best game I’ve seen current Sharks center and former Penguins forward Mikael Granlund play. He created a turnover and held off Sidney Crosby for a breakaway while the game was still competitive. A bit more of that would have gone a long way in Pittsburgh. He otherwise had a few scoring chances, too.
The problems, as noted in the Penguins report card, were the same persistent, inexplicable gaffes that have dogged the Penguins this season:
*Erik Karlsson charging deep into the offensive zone without an available F3 to cover him.
*Turnovers by star players. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were generous, especially in the first period.
*Lost net-front battles in the defensive zone.
Who would have thought Kris Letang would remodel his game so effectively that he would become the responsible, stellar member of the blue
A little birdie told PHN that despite coach Mike Sullivan praising his team’s performance in the first 30 minutes, he told his troops something different behind closed doors. PHN took some comfort in knowing that, given our contrarian analysis to a 10-2 win.
If the mistakes continue, Anaheim and LA will have a good time.
So, here’s the million-dollar question for which no one seems to have an answer: Why?
I’m going to put forth an idea. It’s merely a hypothesis that must undergo additional testing and scrutiny: the Pittsburgh Penguins are too much for their own good. Do they have too much talent playing their own game, is it possible to figure out the others while maintaining what makes them great?
It sounds silly at face value. How can a team have too much talent? However, I’m wondering now, as I did before the Karlsson trade came to fruition, if the Penguins have too many players who need the puck and too few pucks. Can Erik Karlsson be Erik Karlsson if he’s yielding to Sidney Crosby, and vice versa. How can Evgeni Malkin do what he’s always done if he’s watching or reacting to others?
On paper, it should work just fine. Everyone fills a role, and the orchestra plays Beethoven’s Fifth. However, too often, the Penguins have looked like a jam band who can’t hear each other; the soloists playing their own song or waiting to see what the others would play. We won’t even get into the rhythm sections and their confusion.
On Saturday, at least for one evening, the Penguins supporting cast hit all of the right notes. Make no mistake, a goal or a good bounce could have changed the game for the first 25 or 30 minutes.
The Penguins led 3-1 in the second period. That’s hardly a blowout, and San Jose was a shot away from turning the game in their favor. And that’s when something that hasn’t happened all season occurred. The Penguins fourth line scored a goal.
The rhythm section put the band in tune.
And therein lies a lesson. Keep it simple. Keep it coordinated. Everything else will flow. And that’s the crucial importance of a fourth line. Every now and then, they have to blunt an opponent’s momentum, create some for their team, or even change the game by scoring.
It hasn’t happened this season and infrequently happened last season … until Saturday.
The Penguins will one day have an amazing party at the Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the big names has figured it out. Kris Letang has simplified his game to a surprising and effective level. But until the players at center stage are playing the same song, it’s not too much to ask, “Do the Penguins have too much?”