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Molinari: Penguins’ Strange OT Struggles; Guentzel the Enforcer?

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Jake Guentzel Pittsburgh Penguins

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.

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Natan
Natan
12 days ago

Last night the Pens won the OT faceoff and the puck went to MP, who skated in and shot the puck, missed, and it went the other way for the OT winner for Ottawa. I don’t think any other Penguin touched the puck. MP is not out there to score. Why didn’t he slow it down and allow Crosby and Jack to get into the play. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but when there is a 3on3 you have to play smarter than that.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
12 days ago
Reply to  Natan

3 on 3 game, he probably wouldnt be the 1st guy i put out there on D given their lack of speed with that much ice.

Arthur Frampton
Arthur Frampton
12 days ago
Reply to  Natan

Blame the player,…or blame the coach for putting him out there? For 3 on 3’s, you typically put out your best skaters. That ain’t Petterson.

Zach
Zach
12 days ago

I will not be the least bit surprised if the Pittsburgh Penguins do not make the playoffs. 38 games left. No room within the cap to make any kind of trade and who knows what kind of trade would even work. I hope that I am entirely wrong and things change when all the starters return but it seems this might be the future for the penguins. We might have to settle with just enjoying watching our long standing franchise guys finish out their careers in the black and gold.

The Binker
The Binker
12 days ago

Overtime requires fresh minds and legs. Now which three players log the most minutes (or close to it) in overtime? Who are the three oldest players (other than Carter) on the roster? Connect the dots, girls and boys . . .

Last edited 12 days ago by The Binker
The Binker
The Binker
12 days ago

The much greater problem is the physical abuse that Guentzel takes on a regular basis. He’s the most targeted player on the team and has been for a while now. I’m convinced that’s a major reason for his decline in production this season. Which is a nice way to say, HexBurke have done a lousy job in their assembly of the roster once again.

Arthur Frampton
Arthur Frampton
12 days ago
Reply to  The Binker

What’s the use of getting players who will protect our superstars when Sullivan won’t play them anyways?

Jeremy Strickler
Jeremy Strickler
12 days ago

I’ve never been more sure we were going to lose in overtime, going into the overtime. I knew the Sens were going to skate circles around our older players. Watch what your eyes are telling you. Love these guys, but the cup runs are over. This team is old and slow.

Jeremy Strickler
Jeremy Strickler
12 days ago

Also: adding Petry and Rutta in place of Marino and Matheson? Looks pretty bad at this point. Much of the offensive struggle is the inability to get out of our own end and get the puck to the forwards. The team needed to get tougher but not slower. Carter over McCann? Petry over Matheson? Rutta instead of Marino? Woof.

Sam
Sam
12 days ago

Too old, too small, too soft, too injury-prone. Now I guess we can add too dumb as that’s the implication with the MP decision in O, the Rust penalty, and other recent assessments of players’ boneheaded decisions that have turned out to be costly. This roster as currently constructed is set up to fail. But the biggest failure is the coach, who has insisted for years on giving minimal playing time to anybody who offered a modicum of physicality. You point out opposing FWDs park at will in front of our net with no resistance. Do you think Oleksiak, Gudbranson,… Read more »

Rick
Rick
12 days ago
Reply to  Sam

That’s a huge AMEN, Sam. Couldn’t agree more with your comments and observations, right down the line.

What I wouldn’t give to have a coach who actually welcomes, embraces (and plays) guys who possess different attributes and intangibles instead of always trying to fit the same narrow mold (small and speedy).

It would be like a breath of fresh air, I’m sure inside the locker room as well…

Arthur Frampton
Arthur Frampton
12 days ago
Reply to  Sam

Agree 100 percent.

DoomsdayIsHere
DoomsdayIsHere
12 days ago

This team is undisciplined, old, slow, outcoached, worn out, outplayed, outmaneuvered,
outmuscled, out shot, and out and out terrible.
This is the results of “you reap what you sow” for signing aged players to huge contracts and expecting results from 2016-2017.
They have NOT won a playoff series since winning their last S.C. in 2017.
Insanity rules the Pens

Kingpuck
Kingpuck
12 days ago

Wow. Now that is an eye opening stat. And surprises me……not at all. It’s a sofffffff team

Joe
Joe
12 days ago

Hate to say it, but a 60 minute game just doesn’t happen anymore. Just like with Ottawa, they seem to go thru the game, get outshot, then have moments where they turn on the switch and dominate in offensive zone. Not sure if complacent, or think they can save energy and just turn it on. Even watching turnovers by Crosby at red line, blue line, bad passes in own end by everyone. Watching games I wonder if they ever look to see where they’re passing puck when clearing puck out of own end.

Pascal
Pascal
12 days ago

I’ve been having this thought for a while : This organisation should have gone to rebuild mode already. As much as I love Letang and Malkin, I felt they should have been traded a while ago so they could bring back some good prospects. Now that they are under contract until they retire, I feel like we missed out on a good occasion to start fresh. Let’s get our heads out of the sand… our playoff performances of the last few years should have been a clear indication that it was time to move on from an aging core (As… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Pascal