The Penguins are in Trouble; Lack of Effort in 3 Straight Losses
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The Penguins are in Trouble; Lack of Effort in 3 Straight Losses

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What in the world is going on with the Pittsburgh Penguins? The team with Stanley Cup aspirations, generational talents, a Norris Trophy-worthy defenseman, and scoring depth is now just three points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot.

Yes, they’re missing Evgeni Malkin, but that shouldn’t preclude effort. They’ve been missing Justin Schultz for so long that getting him back will be like a blockbuster trade. Both players will make the Penguins better.

But talent isn’t what ails the Penguins.

Most of the team was skated out of their own building by that same Carolina team Tuesday night. If not for Sidney Crosby and his dominant 22 minutes of ice time, the Penguins would have been even more embarrassed than the 4-0 score. The Penguins followed that stinker performance with a half-hearted go Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, who are out of the playoff picture. In fairness, the addition of Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan has energized Florida.

In the overtime loss, the Penguins sang familiar refrains last night.

They failed to score on a 5-on-3 to begin the second period, but one reason given by head coach Mike Sullivan should sound warning bells.

“You get almost one minute of 5-on-3 time, you expect to score. It starts off the faceoff. There was a 50-50 puck and we didn’t compete hard enough on it,” Sullivan said.

More lack of effort when it was needed. I dare not tell you the beloved right winger to whom Sullivan was referring. That right winger has only two shots in the past three games.

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“They were able to get out of their zone a little easier than we’d like. We’d like to put a little more pressure on them and hold on to pucks,” said Sidney Crosby.

Hanging onto pucks. We’ve heard that refrain, too haven’t we? And yet the Penguins are plagued by one-and-done offensive sequences.

The Penguins have just three wins and a loser point in their last 10 games. And this was supposed to begin crunch time. Wednesday, Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked head coach Mike Sullivan if there is a direct inference–regarding the repeated talk of “buy-in” and needing “20 guys invested”–that some players are not invested.

“Look, I’m not going to point fingers,” Sullivan shot back. “It takes the whole group day in and day out to have success. And everybody has to buy into how we’re trying to play the game and the details associated with that.”

The Penguins did play well in the second period and for good stretches of the third. But they failed to do enough. One even strength goal against Florida and a lack of effort on the power play is a sure fire loss. Though the Penguins did earn a point.

“It’s a big point. That’s what I told the guys afterward. It’s a big point,” Sullivan said.

That point put the Penguins three points, instead of just two ahead of Carolina. Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith probably deserves a great deal of credit for that point, too. He stopped 39 shots and far too many of those were good scoring chances. Florida had 56 percent of the scoring chances, Thursday night.

Is this what the Penguins have become; valuing a loser point against a team which is nine points out of the playoffs? The Penguins have too many passengers to play the hard, low style which Sullivan wants. And when they get fully healthy, the coaches would do well to remember which players exerted effort and which have just one or two shots over the past three games.

The additions of Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann may prove to be good pickups but not if they’re surrounded by an effort which has been mailed in.

Hope isn’t a strategy.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Dean

    February 8, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Dan, here is the bottom line. The cause of the lost last night is on either 2 or 3 people. The biggest problem may be Sullivan. Why promote Johnson when he should be benched? He started playing second pair last night. He was out of position on the first goal. In 10 minutes of even strength play the pens had 8 shot attempts for and 22 against. For the night, 2 scoring chances for and 15 against. The numbers have been consistent all year. Numbers don’t lie and the coaches are well aware of them.

    Why isn’t Sullivan benching him? When Sprong wasn’t playing they said that even though Rutherford promoted him it was Sully’s decision.

    When will they admit they made a mistake with JJ? After they waste another prime year or more for Crosby and Malkin?

    Did you hear Brassard and Sheahan? They disliked being played out of position. They are not alone!!

    For some reason Sullivan will not allow the team to develop chemistry. The line of Rust, Bjugstad, Kessel had the best chemistry I have seen in 2 years on the third line for 2 games. What does Sullivan do? He breaks them up in the Carolina and Panther’s games. What was the results?

    If you want to know why we are losing, you don’t need to look any deeper. Fix those 2 problems and we start winning.

    Sullivan should set lines and the let the players work together.

    Guentzel, Crosby, Simon (Crosby likes Simon) Look at the numbers for Simon when he plays there. If Sullivan would have left that line alone Simon would be on pace for 40+.

    Cullen needs to stay as 4th center. Moving him up has been a disaster. Last night’s worst line was Rust, Cullen, Kessel. Plus when Cullen was playing the 4th line it was clicking. Why break-up what is working?

    That leaves Malkin’s line. Based on what we have we should try Blueger and McCann with Malkin, Hornqvist. If we don’t have a solution for LW on that line then fix it before the deadline.

    BTW, the third possible person is Rutherford if he is pushing the playing of Johnson.

  2. James

    February 8, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Bit of a mess here!
    Sullivan’s days may be numbered if he can’t extract enough out the team anymore.
    JR deserves credit for the way he managed to put team together to begin with the back to back cups his lost his way tho in my opinion you can’t allow your team to get beat up on for 82 straight games and expect them to be fresh for the playoffs.
    Why did we get rid of Sheahan he was low cost low value and was tying the 4th line in nicely with Cullen.
    We get rid of basically our only tradable asset for what! A 4th line centre and a RW that Florida didn’t fancy much where is the 3c where is the grit!
    Lowry from Winnipeg available they have a surplus at C and Ferland would have got the job done wouldn’t brake the bank either maybe if we start rattling a few bods it may galvanise the rest of the squad!!!

    • Dan Kingerski

      February 8, 2019 at 11:25 am

      It’s been reported the Penguins wanted Lowry in a Brassard deal, however, Winnipeg refused.

      • randomhockeyguy

        February 8, 2019 at 2:23 pm

        Lowry was a hot item about 2 years ago, but he hasn’t improved. He’s good defensively and has size, but both Bjugstad and McCann are more well rounded. I don’t get the desire to play Bjugstad at RW. Not his natural position, he was forced there after Trocheck burst onto the scene. Bjugstad has 40-50 point production with the right amount of TOI to fit nicely with what the Penguins need. Also right handed, another big need at center. Bjugstad isn’t a LW, and Penguins have Rust, Kessel, and Hornqvist at RW, plus Simon and ZAR who can play there as well. Seems like the Penguins are just acquiring square pegs and trying to force them into round holes….bringing back memories of Jarome Iginla and his misuse as a Penguin.

  3. Hatrick Pornqvist

    February 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    I think this team is in a transistion period, trying to adjust to the realities of how teams play them. The book on the fast break, quick transistion, speed based system is trap trap trap. And it is fairly effective. With our aging core I think Sullivan and Rutherford and trying to build something different. I think a lot of this is growing pains combined with injuries. But honestly I expect it will come together.

    This is just too good of a group of players with way too good of a coaching staff. All the ingredients are there.

    I think Johnson will be put back on his strong side and start playing with Schultz, which I believe was the reason they got him. Teams won’t be able to key on that pairing one force Johnson to make plays on his back hand.

    If we get healthy I think the chip and chase plays will actually wreak havoc and have other teams second guessing us in the neutral zone. Are they gonna dump it in or carry it?

    Guentzel Crosby Simon
    Pearson Malkin Hornqvist
    Rust Bjugstad Kessel
    Cullen McCann Blueger/ZAR

    I think it shakes out like that

    Dumoulin Letang
    Johnson Schultz
    Maatta Riikol/Petterssen

  4. Frank

    February 8, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    I appreciate the “we need an identity” song Sully is singing but I am not sure how an identity is cobbled together when lines change every three shifts. Plus line juggling seems very close to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Aside from 3 or 4 teams at the top and 3 or 4 at the bottom the other 24 or so are essentially “tied.” The Pens are one of the 24. Unfortunately they have to have Crosby, Letang, Malkin and Murray hitting on all cylinders to avoid sinking to the bottom half of the 24. Ugh! That has to be unnerving to the Penguin front office. I cannot see how this group can be seriously considered a Cup contender. Talent aside I do not see much of a will to win. They are dangerous for sure BUT ONLY for short sprints. The Cup is a marathon. I expect this team will be gassed before half the race is run. I do not envy GMJR. If they miss the playoffs or get bumped in an early round with a cap payroll at it’s max it is going to be a raucous summer at the uptown offices.

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