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Kingerski: Penguins Need Better From Goaltenders and Defense, ASAP

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The Pittsburgh Penguins season is already at the 20% mark. The abbreviated 2020-21 NHL season is not when players can spend the first couple of months finding their legs or settling into a groove. It was “go time” from the opening puck drop, and the expected logjam in the East Division has formed as expected.

We knew the Penguins defense would be a work in progress, but we didn’t know the Penguins’ goalie position would be soft, too.

Tristan Jarry is playing … OK. He was brilliant in the second period on Saturday night, but the scoreboard still showed a couple or even a few stoppable goals in the Penguins 4-3 loss. 

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan generally defends his players or offers some carrot of praise, especially for his goalies. He clearly hedged on Jarry, Saturday night.

“It’s, it’s … it’s, it’s a tough one right now, right after the game … to make an assessment. I do think he made some big saves, especially in that second period,” Sullivan began. “Obviously, we don’t want to give up four goals.”

Jarry flashed far too much net at Jordan Eberle on the first goal, left a juicy rebound on the third goal, and a long-range shot trickled through for the game-winner.

That’s enough to erase the acrobatic saves of the second period.

“It’s hard to win when (you give up four goals), but I thought he made some big saves in the second period,” Sullivan concluded.

Penguins Defense

Saturday night, the Penguins defense couldn’t blame injuries for their performance. With the emergence of P-O Joseph who scored his first NHL goal, the Penguins had most of a competent blue line on the ice, even without Brian Dumoulin or Marcus Pettersson.

Unfortunately, what the Penguins had, again, was a cavalcade of mistakes by defensemen who should know better.

Defenseman Mike Matheson drifted towards a covered player, lunged with his stick, and came up with air as Jordan Eberle swooped past for a go-ahead goal.

Kris Letang vacated his net-front position despite Joseph having coverage on a forechecker. Consequently, Cal Clutterbuck and the best fourth line in hockey scored a momentous tying goal despite the Penguins’ domination.

“I’m sure Tanger was trying to help in that circumstance, but if he stops in front, it’s probably a nothing play,” Sullivan said. “Listen, things happen fast out there.”

If it were a bad game, this column wouldn’t be written. It’s been a bad start to the season for the Penguins defenders and goalies.

In seven starts, Jarry is 2-4-1 with a whopping 3.95 GAA, and a paltry .857 save percentage. No one is attempting to re-litigate the Penguins’ decision to keep Jarry over Matt Murray. Still, Jarry must show the silent assassin form which catapulted him into the starter’s net.

And quickly.

The MassMutual East Division is already gridlocked like the Squirrell Tunnels on Friday afternoon (in a non-pandemic world). The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have 11 games played and 11 points. They are just one point ahead of FIVE teams for the final playoff spot. The other teams have only 10 games played, except New Jersey, which has played just nine.

In other words, the Penguins are a breath away from last place.

We knew Matheson was a work in progress. The reports out of Florida were not glowing, and nor were the highlight reels. But the bigger problem is currently Kris Letang.

As good as Joseph has been, and John Marino has been improving, especially since being moved back to his natural right side, Letang is well below his career norms.

Last season, Letang scored 44 points in 61 games. He’s currently on a 22-point pace in a similar 56 games. Last season, Letang had 91 blocks and 31 takeaways. This season he is on pace for about 60 blocks.

The takeaways are worthy of special note. Letang has just one takeaway this season.

And before you say “turnovers,” Letang has fewer of those, too. He’s on pace for about 60 of those, which would be his best rate in several years. However, in context, fewer takeaways, fewer points, and fewer turnovers also points to a less active Letang.

The eye test says so, too.

The axiom, “it’s a long season,” doesn’t apply. This is a sprint, and the Penguins are firmly ensconced in the middle of the East Division with a pack of teams with them. Six teams separated by just one point.

And if a few more pucks aren’t kept out of the Penguins net with better defense and better goaltending, it is the Pittsburgh Penguins who very well could be one of those teams who “just” missed the playoffs.

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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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Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
1 year ago

This is a coaching problem. Reeves, Cole, Jarry are not Sullivan types and he has thrown another player under the bus or put in his LARGE DOGHOUSE! When a goalie has constant traffic jams in front of him he leans to cover & angle integrity suffers! Not one physical d man in the group & it shows. Letang has been a liability for years, I believe we won a cup without him, which should have been a warning sign then. I get the loyalty theme and fans not being grateful, give the kids the right to grow & learn. The… Read more »

Jack
Jack
1 year ago

You are a very kind man Dan. Most have harsher words for Jarry’s work this season.

Eric Bouchard
Eric Bouchard
1 year ago

I still think these players needs a new msg in the room. A NEW system. (New coach) And a couple of new faces. As for the goalies. Buckley is the main reason why the Pens goalies arent solid, cant correct any of their flaws. Or have some kind of progression in their game. NONE…. After one y or 2 they still have the same problems. SO he would need to go too.

Dean
Dean
1 year ago

I have watched every game. Marino has had a terrible second year and the press is giving him a pass. Matheson has only played 3 games and Marino was even worse when Matheson wasn’t playing. Letang needs a healthy Dumoulin playing his best hockey to help him. Without that he is a liability.

Eric Bouchard
Eric Bouchard
1 year ago

As for Letang i think youre right. On the Clutterbuck goal. And a couple of Turnovers. AND on the Isle PP goal. He left Anders Lee alone. I know no Pens Dman cant move Lee from the crease . (all to lightweight and NO TOUGHNESS on D for the Pens) They traded Ian COle because he was in Sully’s dog house. But at least he was SO useful on PK, blocking shots and was the only “toughness” on D. THey traded Gudbransson because of $$$ Both of these guys would be SO useful to this team right now. But no…we… Read more »

Katz
Katz
1 year ago

If they played the Islanders in a series’s they very well would get swept again.

Anders Lee has nocturnal emissions dreaming about the Penguins Penalty Killers.

There might as well be a Red light in inviting him to sleep in the crease.

One can opine all they want about looking better 5 on 5 but Letang et al. are impotent . Nothing has been addressed . Net front on PP and Defense on PK.

“Stupid is as stupid does” Right Forest?

Last edited 1 year ago by Katz
Steve
Steve
1 year ago

I am just curious what other people think. I am not a coach, scout, and I never played organized ice hockey. So with that disclaimer, my opinion is that Dumoulin has been slipping over the last few seasons as well. He seems to have lost a bit of escapability and has gotten hit more, injured more, and I think that’s taken a toll on his overall play. Not a criticism. I have total respect for Dumoulin. He’s played a lot of big time minutes on championship teams. Time takes a toll and that, I think, adds into Letang’s struggles. The… Read more »

Katz
Katz
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve

Who was the last great defensive stay at home Defenseman the Penguins had?

Hainsey? Orpik, Burrows, all gif was to Stackhouse?

The focus on offense has left a void and it has and is being exploited. IMO

They need at least one aircraft carrier to help the Goalies. For sure in the PK

Steve
Steve
1 year ago
Reply to  Katz

I would actually say the answer to your question is Dumoulin. The first cup he won alongside Letang, helping stabilize that pairing. The next season he played the playoffs alongside Hainsey. So he was the defensive lynchpin on two cup runs alongside two different partners. That’s pretty dang impressive. Dumoulin has been that steadying solid defensive defenseman for the last several years. But in my eyes, I think he’s slipping from his previous performance level and I am just wondering if it’s still fair to expect that from him.

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
1 year ago
Reply to  Katz

Just my opinion, but 2 Ulf Samuelson types would immediately improve the Pens ability to physically clear the net as compared to the physically soft puck moving types the Pens value. The Anders Lee type forwards “bully” the current Pens except Ceci.

Katz
Katz
1 year ago
Reply to  Ricardo58

The Penguins do not really have “Defensemen” . They have Forwards ,at least mentally , masquerading as Dmen.

I really like POJ. As for Letang it’s no mistake they won a Cup w/o him. Talented skater , Defensive liability.

David
David
1 year ago

Penguins have been trying to find their game and figure things out for 2 seasons plus now. The problem is nailed by the title of this article — and the stars are starting to show some leaks as well. Reminds me of the Steelers at the end of the 1970’s. It was bound to happen. And it isn’t going to get fixed by adding a free agent or making a trade.