SAN JOSE — The voracious holler that has stuck to a few primary Pittsburgh Penguins scapegoats will soon be dying down. In all likelihood, Jeff Carter will be in the press box on Saturday when the Penguins begin their three-game road trip against the San Jose Sharks. He’ll join P.O Joseph as coach Mike Sullivan pushes forward to find winning combinations.
A record of 3-6-0 isn’t nearly good enough, especially in the jammed-up Metro Division. Even the Philadelphia Flyers are finding ways to win games this season. The tri-state teams control the top three spots, and the Carolina Hurricanes are currently in a wild-card position. That’s how tight the standings at the top are.
Those teams are six to 10 points ahead of the Penguins.
Plenty of time to catch them, right? From 2013-14 to 2017-28, 62 of the 80 teams in a playoff spot on American Thanksgiving made the playoffs. That stat line has become well known. On Thanksgiving 2022, the Penguins were percentage points out of a playoff spot.
And you know where they finished.
Multiple players have broached the subject in the locker room. As the team looks ahead to each game individually, I suspect at least some of the players have a goal to be back in the race by Thursday, Nov. 23. The Penguins have nine games beginning with San Jose, and the schedule will not be easy.
The Ducks and LA Kings are on deck. LA has a handful of oversized forwards who can skate and a playing style that grinds opponents into flour. That type of team would seem to be a terrible matchup for the Penguins.
After the road trip, the Penguins have Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey, Vegas, and the New York Rangers on the schedule.
Ouch. The only “bad” teams in this stretch are San Jose and Columbus on Nov. 14. The three Metro opponents and Buffalo would love nothing more than to drive a stake through the Penguins’ heart.
If the Penguins don’t get their act together immediately, those teams could have the chance to do just that.
The Penguins are third in shots-for percentage (54.8%), fifth in expected goals (55.7%), seventh in scoring chances (53.7%), and ninth in high-danger scoring chances (54%), according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
There is credence when coach Mike Sullivan says the team has carried the play for long stretches. Yet, the Penguins have yielded as many goals (21) as they’ve scored, and there’s also the pesky wins column.
No, the six losses are not on Jarry, but the goaltender has had the chance to flip the script and make a few more saves but has not done so. This column won’t be as dour and hyperbolic as some would like because goaltending can be like starting pitching in baseball. The focus goes to the individual position, but very few people understand the mechanics of the position.
Even Sullivan will often defer questions about Jarry’s game to goalie coach Andy Chiodo (who is off limits to the media this season).
Except for the loss to Ottawa, in which Jarry stopped only three of nine shots (official scoring later added two shots, upping the total to nine) before getting the hook, the Penguins goalie has made all of the routine saves. There haven’t been many ghastly whiffs.
Yet there have been too many stoppable goals and a handful of softies.
“Top of the crease” is a mantra shouted by us amateurs, but understand that’s not goaltending gospel. Henrik Lundqvist had a Hall of Fame career playing deep in the net. Past goalie coaches have pushed Penguins goalies Matt Murray and Jarry deeper into the crease.
If there is a glaring technical flaw in Jarry’s game, I can’t see it. No, the goalie just isn’t stopping enough pucks. While the losses aren’t on Jarry because the high-danger shot volume isn’t great, those yielded chances have been spectacular.
Before you bury Jarry, the guy does have two All-Star appearances and was forecast as the second-best Canadian goalie in the NHL before the season. And yes, for the Penguins to get their act together, Jarry must do so, too.
While Sullivan is sending messages to the room, don’t be surprised to see Magnus Hellburg get a start, especially if Jarry is spotty against San Jose.
One assist in nine games.
I knew Rickard Rakell had been quiet in the first nine, but not until Friday when I took a hard look at the team stats, did I realize … just one?! How does a linemate for Evgeni Malkin, who has 11 points (5-6-11), and Reilly Smith, who has seven points (4-3-7), have only a mere assist?
How long will Rakell be invisible before Sullivan calls him to the coach’s office?
It’s all hands on deck for the Penguins. Invisible, soft, or mistake-prone won’t cut it. The teams they’re chasing are good. They’re also hungry.
One wonders how president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas will react if this continues.