Too much drive-by offense relying on rush chances and not zone pressure. Too many players who aren’t scoring. And too little offense from the blue line. The Pittsburgh Penguins are scoring too few goals. They are winless in their last three and remain mired near .500, probably out of a playoff seed.
The Penguins will hang their hat on the offensive pressure that the Sidney Crosby line created in the first two periods. Crosby’s line had 12 shots, which was equal to the other three Penguins lines combined (but not counting the mix-and-match lines later in the third period). According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Crosby line also had 13 scoring chances, which was more double the rest of the lines combined.
Evan Rodrigues has provided a little jump to the line, but the rest of the lineup is in hiding.
Head coach Mike Sullivan nailed Kasperi Kapanen to the bench in the third period and skipped him in the rotation of the lines a few times prior, too. Kapanen played only 11 minutes and got just one shift in the third period after Edmonton took the lead three minutes into the third.
It’s not a good picture.
For a brief moment, the Pittsburgh Penguins found the best defense against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. After a few mistakes in the first period which added a pair of assists in McDavid’s column, the Penguins took the puck away and didn’t give it back in the second period.
But McDavid was too good to nullify for long. The Penguins made mistakes by pressing for offense, inexplicably with McDavid on the ice, and Edmonton pulled away for a 5-2 win at Rogers Arena.
The Penguins are barely above .500 at 10-8-5. They’re one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot, but Columbus has three games in hand. Boston is three points back with four games in hand.
In reality, the Penguins are only in a playoff spot by playing several more games than their competition. They’re likely a few points out of a playoff spot.
There are plenty of reasons the Penguins can use to assuage their lack of offense. Sidney Crosby has played only 11 games. Their lineup has been depleted. And those reasons hold water, but only to a degree.
It’s December, which means it’s not time to panic, but it’s time to worry because the results have been predictable.
Penguins Loss to Edmonton Indicative
The Penguins limited Edmonton in the first 40 minutes by taking away the puck but were over-aggressive and gift-wrapped a few two-on-one breaks for the Oilers’ big guns. McDavid rang the cash register each time by setting up three goals.
“We were very effective for a good part of the game,” Sullivan said. “I thought for the first two periods we did a great job with our energy and trying to dictate the terms out there. We could have made better decisions with the puck and not feed their transition game.”
But even as the Penguins pounded Edmonton in the second period, their only offense was a goal by Teddy Blueger from Evan Rodrigues during a line change.
“It would’ve been nice to grab the lead, obviously, but we’re still in a good spot, playing good going into the third and just make a few mistakes and it ends up in the back of the net,” Sidney Crosby said. “We had some good pressure, some good zone time for most of the night. And you know, you give them any, any opening, and they take advantage of it.”
Where is Kapanen?
The Penguins’ second line with Jason Zucker-Jeff Carter-Kasperi Kapanen has been AWOL more than they’ve been present. They get chances, but those are usually one-offs. How often can you say that line has created sustained offensive pressure and multiple chances?
“Collectively, I think they could be better at hunting pucks and just working collectively to control territory, give themselves an opportunity to create offense in different ways–I think they get a number of chances off the rush,” head coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday night. “I think that line could do a little bit better job in the offensive zone, just establishing a down-low game. And they’re very capable. They have good size and good strength, and they’re gritty…So they have all the attributes to have a very effective down-low game. And that’s an area I think where they haven’t been quite as consistent.”
Where has the Carter line been?
Where has Kapanen been on the line?
The Penguins winger dominated training camp and preseason but has been mediocre to bad this season. Kapanen, 25, has five goals, but he’s scored those in only three games. That means he’s been goalless in 20 of 23 games.
The Penguins second line has not been good enough, and that’s creating a hole in the middle of the Penguins rotation. In addition to lack of offense, the line is giving more chances and goals, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Sooner than later, the line needs to produce or changes are necessary.
The Penguins are winless in three games, but the losses have too many common themes, which also dovetail to shortcomings of their recent five-game winning streak too.
It’s not bad luck. The chalkboard doesn’t lie, and after 23 games, the stat sheets don’t lie, either.
A lack of finish has been a consistent theme when the Penguins dominate periods. When they plowed 50 shots towards Montreal goalie Jake Allen in a 6-3 loss or otherwise controlled large periods of the game in their 1-0 win over the New York Islanders, they should have hung four or five.
Late goals against Montreal skew the argument a bit. The Pittsburgh Penguins scored one goal on their first 45 shots in that game.
The Penguins have trouble scoring goals, and after 23 games, that’s not a coincidence, bad luck, or bad bounces. After a while, that means a team isn’t good at scoring goals.
The Penguins have scored three or fewer goals in 15 of their last 18 games, beginning on Oct. 28. Two of six times they’ve scored three goals, they’ve lost.
Let’s flip it to glass half full. The Penguins have scored three or more goals eight times in the last 18 games. That’s not good enough. They’ve lost three of those eight games, too.
“If you play in their end, we generated some really good chances, and if we’re able to get that lead, you know, maybe things are a little bit different,” Crosby said of the Edmonton loss. “And you know, once they get a lead, you have to open up a little bit, then you start to get in trouble.”
In the last 18 games, the Penguins have notched that fourth goal only three times and are 2-0-1 in those games.
Why aren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins scoring goals? Why is it a grinding slog, uphill, in the mud, with driving rains, and a headwind to score goals even when dominating periods?
*Let’s be brutally honest. The Penguins have a lot of players who are playing above their paygrade. Such players will have good games but also regress, too. Danton Heinen has good stats. Brock McGinn already has nine points. Teddy Blueger scored his 10th point and fifth goal of the season on Wednesday night.
The Penguins bottom-six has–at times–carried the team. Offense from the bottom six is a mark of a team that could have playoff success, but relying on that offense is a mark of a team that will miss the playoffs.
Without Bryan Rust in the lineup, and Evan Rodrigues on the top line, the Penguins are using a fourth line (Aston-Reese, Blueger, McGinn) as a third line.
Combined with the struggles of the second line and the similarly red stats from the Penguins third line, the Penguins middle-six is not chipping in enough offense.
*The Penguins have done a better job of going to the net, but they’re not built to win those battles. They’re certainly not winning enough of the battles near the net as goalies are getting away with dropping juicy rebounds near the crease. The team has improved traffic and chaos near the net, but there’s still a ways to go.
*The Penguins’ blue line is not producing enough, either. The Penguins defensemen have combined for four goals this season. Four goals in 23 games are not good enough. On Wednesday night, the blue line combined for four of the Penguins 27 scoring chances (Matheson 2, Letang 1, Marino 1).
Last weekend, Mike Matheson admitted he wanted to join the rush more often, but only Kris Letang is currently providing an extra stick on the rush.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are teetering again. They’ve almost given back the gains of their five-game winning streak. The Penguins need more offense. They need more from Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter, and Jason Zucker. And the Penguins need more from the blue line.
Or the Penguins need more changes.