The Pittsburgh Penguins probably need help from their GM on the NHL trade market, quickly. The team fired 42 shots at journeyman New Jersey goalie Scott Wedgewood on Thursday. The goalie, who has spent as much time in the AHL as the NHL over the past five seasons, turned aside 40 of the first 41 shots until Bryan Rust slipped one past with four seconds to go.
Don’t be fooled by the 3-2 score. Without centers Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger, the Penguins weren’t in the game.
The Penguins are built on speed, playing on the rush, and being tenacious but they were not built to grind away in the corners or at the net front.
Everyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant.
That’s not a knock on the Penguins’ effort, which was respectable for most of the game on Thursday. That’s not a knock on their heart, leadership, coaching, speed, talent, or easily mutable skills of the Penguins depth forwards.
Wait, yes to that last one.
And yes to more players who can play near the crease.
“We had good chances, and I think we’ve got to get to the front of the net a little more,” Penguins winger Jake Guentzel said. “Maybe (Wedgewood) saw a little too many of those pucks. So we’ll take the number of shots, but I think we just got to make sure to make it tougher on him next time.“
Injuries to the Penguins’ second and third-line centers shoved them into a gritty high-low game in which getting to the net, rebounds, and crease battles were the primary source of sustenance.
Ever taken a sports car on an unpaved, rocky road? Only Jeremy Clarkson (Top Gear reference) would do that.
And, that’s a problem the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new front office of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke must fix ASAP or risk losing all of the gains in the standings the team has made in the last three weeks.
We don’t know the injury prognosis of Evgeni Malkin or Teddy Blueger. Neither has been placed on LTIR yet, so that’s a positive sign. It likely means the Penguins are hoping to have both back before the 10-game or 24-day span ends.
However, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan also offered this blunt warning about Malkin’s condition.
“I’d rather not get into the details of the evaluation process,” Sullivan said. “When we have definitive information, we’ll update you.”
I don’t know about you, but if you don’t have enough information 36 hours later, red flags go up. Sure, we can speculate–waiting for swelling to subside, a second opinion, waiting to see how initial treatments fared. All of those and more are plausible explanations.
But not many bring good news.
Sullivan may be forced to be even vaguer in the coming days to protect the Penguins standing on the NHL trade market. Get desperate–get screwed.
That won’t change the fact the Penguins need help if they’re going to play the hard-nosed, gritty game at the net. They needed a bit of help before. Now it’s an all-out red alert.
“I think we need to get in front of him a little bit more and get the rebounds. I think that’s where they won the game (Thursday). Essentially, they they were harder to play against in front of their net than we were,” Marcus Pettersson said. “So I think we tried to shoot a lot and generate that way … maybe get some second chances. That’s why we shoot the puck. So we’ve got to get to those.”
The fortunate part of the equation is the Penguins still have enough talent, speed, and system to get 42 shots on goal. Even as Evan Rodrigues, who has been a depth forward for most of his career, was pressed into second-line center duty, or Mark Jankowski, who scored seven points last season, was thrust into a third-line role, the Penguins got pucks to the net.
It’s the next step that haunted the Penguins.
“You’ve got to shoot the puck, put the puck on the net, and put pucks in play. (We) to try to create those next play opportunities,” head coach Mike Sulivan said. “And I thought the shot clock is an indication of that. I thought we put a lot of pucks in play tonight. We had a lot of opportunity for those next play chances that the net-front or off the rebounds…”
It was a good effort for a team not dressed to get greasy. A little bit of help would go a long way.
Those players are out there, and the Canadian clubs are moving quickly because the Canadian government is not moving quickly to reduce the mandatory 14-day quarantine for players acquired from the U.S.
Expect to see the NHL trade block’s game of musical chairs begin shortly. And when it starts, there will be a feeding frenzy.
If the Penguins are in “win now” mode this season, now is the time. They can’t afford to limp along without Teddy Blueger and Evgeni Malkin for three weeks or 10 games or more. Otherwise, the NHL playoffs will go on without them, and there won’t be a prized lottery draft pick waiting for them, either. Though the Minnesota Wild, who owns the Penguins first-round pick, would appreciate it.
Perhaps Malkin will return in days, not weeks. Perhaps Blueger will return soon, too, and the Penguins will need to ride out a few-game rough patch.
But if Malkin and-or Blueger aren’t back soon, it’s a red alert time for the Penguins. They’re just not built to win the games as they will be forced to play.
And, who knows, with a little bit of the proper help now, it just might help them win those games if they get to play in May…or June.