There is much about the first three months of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season that seems to defy logic.
Or, at the very least, expectations.
The way the Penguins’ power play under-performed for long stretches during the first 44 games.
The way Jeff Carter has become a virtual non-factor in the offense.
The way Bryan Rust, one of their most clutch players, does not have a game-winner among his 10 goals.
But perhaps the most perplexing truth of the Penguins’ 2022-23 so far is their absolutely miserable record in overtime.
Their 5-4 loss to Ottawa Wednesday night at Canadian Tire Centre dropped their overtime record to 2-7; they have more defeats in overtime than any other NHL club.
Now, the 3-on-3 format employed during overtime is not to be mistaken for actual hockey — 3-on-3s almost never happen organically during regulation — but would seem to favor a team that’s top-heavy with offensive talent, as the Penguins are.
Especially when so many of their top-six forwards — particularly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — complement their skills and creativity with vast experience, and their two defensemen who average the most ice time in overtime, Jeff Petry and Kris Letang, have a dynamic offensive component to their game.
It can’t be ignored that Petry is injured and hasn’t played since Dec. 10, while Letang hasn’t been in a game since Dec. 28, but their absences don’t explain why the Penguins’ only overtime victories in nine tries have come on Dec. 9 at Buffalo and Monday against Anaheim.
The Penguins’ overtime issues stand in rather stark contrast to last season, when they won six of 10 games decided in overtime.
They finished three points ahead of fourth-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division standings in 2021-22, and the Penguins’ relative success in overtime helped to nudge them ahead of the Capitals.
If they were just 5-4 in overtime this season, they’d be tied with Washington for fourth in the Metro and would have more than a one-point lead over the New York Islanders in the fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Whether the NHL should resort to a gimmick like 3-on-3 overtime to determine a winner can be debated. That the Penguins would be well-served to find a way to be more successful under this format cannot.
Keeping Their Composure
The Pittsburgh Penguins were understandably displeased with the work of referees Dan O’Rourke and Ghislain Hebert Wednesday.
The only people who had a worse game that those two officials were the Penguins’ penalty-killers, who were scorched for four goals on nine Senators power plays.
But surely the Penguins have been around this game long enough to know that a ref isn’t going to change his call simply because the player he’s cited for breaking a rule — or because he missed an opponent committing an infraction against that player — expresses displeasure with the decision.
There’s a line between lobbying an official to get the next call to go in your favor and protesting too vigorously for the ref to accept without a response, and only the official can know for sure where that line is on a particular night.
Rust crossed it when he expressed displeasure with a hooking minor he was assessed late in the second period, and was given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor for his trouble.
Whether Rust had a valid point is irrelevant. When your team is desperate for points and having an awful time killing penalties in a tight game, doing anything that risks drawing an unsportsmanlike minor that could leave your club shorthanded for another two minutes is just not smart.
Yes, it’s an emotional game and frustration with officiating is an all-too-common feature of today’s NHL, but a veteran like Rust has to show some restraint and discipline in a situation when taking an unnecessary penalty could have cost his team a point or two.
A Clear(ing) Problem
More than halfway through the season, the Penguins’ penalty-minute leader is noted ruffian Jake Guentzel.
Yeah, all 5 foot 11, 180 pounds of him.
Guentzel has been assessed 30 minutes worth of minors, which puts him in a nine-way tie for 116th place in the league rankings.
And while Guentzel isn’t a threat to overtake Dave (Tiger) Williams as the NHL’s all-time penalty-minutes leader anytime soon, the fact that a skilled winger has the most minutes on the team — P.O Joseph is second, with 24 — would seem to reflect, among other things, how passive the Penguins are around their own net.
The eye test suggests that opponents frequently are able to operate at will in and around the Pittsburgh Penguins’ crease, without real concern that anyone will attempt to move them — legally or otherwise — out of the area.
That Guentzel has accumulated more penalty minutes than any teammate would seem to confirm it.