Molinari: The Eyes Have it; Who’s Not Talking? Who’s Not Listening?
Dylan Ferguson deserves most of the blame — or, if you prefer, credit — for Ottawa’s 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night.
Of all the candidates to deal a potentially mortal blow to the Penguins’ prospects of extending their streak of playoff appearances to 17 games, a goaltender who had been assigned to an ECHL club a month ago was not one.
Nonetheless, Ferguson, 24, carved out a niche in that group — and a prominent one, at that — by stopping 48 of 49 shots in his first NHL start.
Not this season.
But while Ferguson earned every syllable of praise he received for that performance, the reality is that he got a good look at far too many of those 49 shots, and even a career minor-leaguer is going to stop just about everything that he’s able to see.
It’s no coincidence that despite ranking fifth in the NHL in average shots per game (34.2), the Penguins are just 16th in goals-scored (3.19).
“We could still make it tougher on other teams’ goalies,” Sidney Crosby said.
Not generating enough traffic in and around their opponents’ crease has been a recurring problem for the Penguins, and if their summer vacation begins immediately after the regular-season finale in Columbus April 13, that will be one of many reasons for it.
Is anybody listening?
Mike Sullivan is one of the most accomplished — and best — coaches in the NHL. Period. Sure, he does some things that invite second-guessing and criticism; every coach, in every sport, does.
Of course, Sullivan has earned two more Stanley Cup rings than just about anyone who’s inclined to question his capabilities to teach, strategize or run an NHL bench effectively, so the guy starts out with the benefit of the doubt in pretty much any discussion of his performance.
But his qualifications and credentials, however impeccable, do not automatically assure that he is the right coach for this team, at this time.
It’s not that Sullivan has changed — at least in any meaningful negative way — since he succeeded Mike Johnston in mid-December, 2015, but his players have. And not just their names.
A big part of the Penguins’ success in his early years was the way his players efficiently and vigorously executed his instructions. They were faster and more attentive to details than their opponents.
Sullivan knew how to exploit that advantage, and his players made it happen.
In the past few years, however, the Penguins no longer have an edge in speed on most clubs, and too many players make the same mistakes, too many times. There are too many defensive-coverage errors, too many lapses and letdowns.
And, as a result, too many defeats.
Part of the problem — most of it, maybe — is that the Penguins’ players just aren’t good enough to maintain a place among the league’s best clubs anymore, While there still are some elite talents on the payroll, the roster is top-heavy, the supporting cast simply inadequate.
But it also is fair to wonder whether some of Sullivan’s players simply aren’t absorbing — and/or acting on — his message the way they once did.
That certainly would help to explain why the Pittsburgh Penguins will enter their game at Colorado Wednesday evening looking up at the Eastern Conference playoff field.
This is a Major Problem? Really?
Complaining about Casey DeSmith and his up-and-down season is hockey’s version of a first-world problem. In the salary-cap era, every team — especially ones made up almost exclusively of long-established veterans — is going to have personnel flaws, simply because there’s not enough cap space to address every position the way teams might if they had no such constraints.
And rarely, if ever, is the most pressing issue going to be the work of the backup goaltender.
If the No. 2 is going to be able to almost seamlessly step in for the go-to guy, he’s probably going to want to be paid about the same, as well. Doing that is a luxury most teams, particularly good ones, rarely have.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have far more urgent concerns than Casey DeSmith.
Sounds of Silence
It certainly would be nice to know what officials of Fenway Sports Group, the current majority owner of the Penguins, think about the state of the franchise and the performances of the people who have taken it there, but there’s no reason to expect that anytime soon.
The public profile FSG has had here since taking over the team in November, 2021 makes its media-shy predecessors, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, seem like unabashed publicity-seekers.