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5 Penguins Thoughts: Face the End or Find Heart; Depth Players Needed



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin

DENVER — It is highly unlikely the Pittsburgh Penguins will lose their remaining 11 games and highly unlikely the Florida Panthers will win their remaining 10. Though the worry over missing the NHL playoffs for the first time in Evgeni Malkin’s career and the first time since rookie Sidney Crosby skated on the imploding team with Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, and Ziggy Palfy seems greater on the external than internal.

Call it confidence that players don’t worry they’re going to lose.

Good teams eventually tap into that need to win and do so.

Perhaps being knocked out of the wild card spot will be the last time this team hits the snooze button. Perhaps those mistakes will become those little victories.

“We have to find a way to limit those mistakes,” Sidney Crosby said after their losses to the New York Rangers.

We will find out what kind of heart and soul the Penguins have Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche. This team has been unable to pull out of a skid without letting it fester. Winless streaks of seven and six are the lowlights of the Penguins’ schedule.

Back-to-back games with Colorado and the Dallas Stars on Thursday will not be easy, but they need at least two points, if not three, or the Florida Panthers will keep control of the playoff destiny.

2. What about the Top Six?

I thought it a good question from a commenter. The Penguins’ bottom six has worn the wrath of the fans and been the subject of coach Mike Sullivan’s attention as he flips, changes, and teaks the lines.

But what about the top six? Do they not bear more responsibility?

Well, no.

When you realize Jake Guentzel has 62 points (30-32-62), Sidney Crosby 83 points (29-54-83) in 70 games, and Evgeni Malkin has 73 points (24-49-73) in 70 games, they are producing.

They can’t always score. They can’t carry all of the offense.

Secondary and depth scoring is vital. The Penguins are getting none.

3. Ryan Poehling

Poehling told PHN Tuesday after practice he feels like he has some extra zip. I’m not sure I noticed how fast he is in the first part of the season.

Unfortunately, the Penguins are calling him into service a bit above his optimal position, at least at this point in the season and his career.

Poehling has something the Penguins might be able to mold into a pretty good third-line center. But they need him to be that, now. It’s not a fair ask, but Jeff Carter and Mikael Granlund did not provide much push from the middle of the third line.

All of Granlund’s linemates laud his ability to make little plays and slick passes to create offense, but to this moment, Granlund has two points in nine games with the Penguins.

Poehling is scoreless in three games since being activated from the LTIR. Poehling and co. had five scoring chances against just two vs. Ottawa, but they lacked a high-danger chance or a goal.

It was a good start.

Perhaps Drew O’Connor should be on that left wing to get to the net?

4. Penguins Defense, P.O Joseph

All things considered, the Pittsburgh Penguins defenders played a solid game against the Ottawa Senators. They had very few mistakes.

The Penguins are missing some offense on the backside, but don’t expect Taylor Fedun or Chad Ruhwedel to provide it.

Mark Friedman has a bit of offense in his game, but Sullivan prefers when Friedman plays a reliable, smaller game instead of an agitating, wild game.

The defenseman who has more to give is P.O Joseph. Joseph has elite skating, good vision, and offensive instincts. However, Joseph has one big limitation: himself.

Joseph has to seize the moment and be stronger. He can be an impactful defenseman; now is the time to shed the cautiousness and go for it.

5. Alex Nylander

Nylander had a strong start and didn’t make mistakes, but he was also not impactful. His game is in the offensive zone, and he didn’t bring much offense.

He will probably get more NHL chances and opportunities to establish himself as bottom-six forward, but he’ll need to be more assertive in the offensive zone and show a bit more creativity.

He defended hard but receded to a very straight, vanilla game.

While some lamented about Sullivan putting Danton Heinen in the lineup, which forward is more likely to find the soft spot in the offensive zone and hit the back of the net? Heinen.

It’s another example of the canyon-like difference between the AHL and NHL games.

Nylander should get more NHL ice this season or next, maybe with the Penguins, but he’ll need to up his overall game to include the offensive side. How’s that for a 180-degree flip?