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Pump the Brakes; 90 Shots, Negative Scoring Chances are Trouble

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The opponents hurled 90 shots combined in the past two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sure, Matt Murray’s save percentage needed a boost to become commensurate with his elevated play since he returned from his several-week IR stint in December. But it should not be overlooked the Penguins allowed 90 shots to a pair of non-playoff teams.

And the Penguins middle wingers have been well underwater for a few weeks, not just in the less important shots category but in scoring chances as well.

Last night, the locker room was full of positive spun questions from the media. The Penguins had just won their second straight game, they’re beginning to feel a little better about themselves than they did after the 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and a skeptical eye wasn’t entirely appreciated.

“They’re a team fighting for their life right now and so are we. I think they pushed hard,” Bryan Rust said when PHN asked about the Edmonton’s surge through the second period and into the third.

Rust is rarely one to shoot down a question, was he clearly not having the skeptical nature of the query.

The Penguins defensemen have solidified the scoring zones. As much as Edmonton tried, like Philadelphia before them, to convert a golden scoring chance, Penguins defensemen were in the way. Edmonton had only a couple clean shots at Murray (not counting a penalty shot, of course).

And speaking of that penalty shot, everyone noted Murray made a glove save on the Connor McDavid. That had to feel good, right?

“I don’t care, man. Just trying to make saves,” laughed Murray. “He’s got 100 different moves in his arsenal. He’s the best player in the world. Sure you watch some things (in pre-scouting) but you never want to get too locked in, you want to stay fluid.”

Murray has made his team look much better than they’ve played. Much better. By the way, did Murray just call McDavid the best in the world?

With the defense battling for the dirty scoring zones, and Murray making big saves, the responsibility falls on the forwards to keep up their end of the bargain. That means getting the puck and hanging on to the puck.

In the great cliche which is “hanging onto pucks,” the Penguins forwards continue to be inconsistent from line to line. Again Wednesday night, the Penguins middle lines, this time centered by Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann were on the receiving end of Edmonton’s business.

Worse, Phil Kessel had zero shots at 5v5 in the offensive zone. ZERO. His lone even shot came from outside the blue line.

Tanner Pearson also whiffed on the shot tally. Again.

Over the past seven games, the pair have had more games without a shot than games in which they’ve gotten a shot on goal. That is frightening.

That Kessel and Pearson continue to post goose eggs not only on the scoresheet but even in the shot column should be more than a little concerning for the Penguins. Their middle lines continue to be the fuel for the opposition attack. Last night, the line was centered by Nick Bjugstad who dished three offensive zone hits below the goal line and just missed a great chance from the circle.

It’s hard to fault him for the zeros by his linemates. Bjugstad is new to this crew but the numbers are the same. Where are his linemates?

The trio had the worst shot ratio, which can be dismissed. We believe less and less in Corsi as a metric to judge the Penguins as their play evolves, but the scoring chances are typically the story. The Penguins second line with Kessel, Pearson, and Bjugstad were utterly dominated.

The line earned only two scoring chances but yielded 10 against. It was the Crosby line and the Penguins fourth line with Matt Cullen which had to defend Conor McDavid. Not the Penguins second line, which often drew the Edmonton third line with Brad Malone and Milan Lucic. It should have been a big win for the Penguins line.

Small side note, the Penguins third line with Jared McCann, Teddy Blueger and Patric Hornqvist were on the plus side.

Overall, the Penguins were significantly out-chanced, 21-29 by a significantly inferior team. Again. And a heaping dose of that loss is directly on the Penguins second line, but Kessel and Pearson. Again.

As Blueger, Garrett Wilson, and Zach Aston-Reese fight for a sweater, it’s the Penguins higher paid middle line wingers who are on the wrong side of the puck.

And the Penguins need to get that right.

 

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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