Technically, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored six goals in three games against the New Jersey Devils though one of those goals came with only four seconds to go in a loss. So, the Penguins earned five goals in more than 180 minutes of competitive play. We must ask the question if the team can score goals.
Can they score enough goals without Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger in the middle of the lineup?
“That’s always important when you have success consistently. I think (Sunday) we generated some decent chances, every line, and didn’t capitalize. It was a close game, and over a time, anything can happen,” Sidney Crosby said. “I think if you want to win consistently, everybody’s got to chip in.”
That’s the idea, anyway.
But let’s be crystal clear. The Penguins now rely on Jared McCann, Mark Jankowski, and Frederick Gaudreau to stir the pot. The Penguins are relying on those centers to create offense.
Working backward, Gaudreau hasn’t played in the NHL for two years. Jankowski had seven points last season and has four this season (2g, 2a). McCann is a legitimate center, but his offensive skills shine brightest on the wing.
The situation will exist for a few of weeks, perhaps a bit less, perhaps a bit more. In ordinary seasons, that might be six or eight games. In this mara-sprint season, the Penguins will play double that amount.
They need to figure out how to put the puck in the net. Pronto. Fortunately, they have the Buffalo Sabres this week. It’s the perfect Saturday morning jobber to work on things.
Now–why the New Jersey series was important: New Jersey structured their “attack” to first take away the Penguins rush. Just as the Penguins series against the Philadelphia Flyers last month was vital because it launched the rush, the Penguins found their game.
New Jersey made a point to take it away.
We made a big deal of the Penguins’ Thursday night loss because Marcus Pettersson put specific words to the Penguins’ battle.
“I think that’s where they won the game (Thursday). Essentially, they they were harder to play against in front of their net than we were,” Pettersson said that night.
By taking away the Penguins’ speed rush, New Jersey put the Penguins in a situation in which they had to create offense off turnovers, from the wall, and in front of the net. In short, the Pittsburgh Penguins had to play a greasy game.
Expect other teams to do the same.
With 24 games to go, it’s about playoff season, and the gritty style will be playoff hockey, too.
So, how will the Penguins score goals? We put that question to Sidney Crosby.
“I just think it comes down to finishing. I think we generated some good chances, I don’t know what the final number was on scoring chances for the last three games, but I think we had some pretty good looks throughout,” Crosby said. “I think the habits and everything that we work on throughout the year, they’ve always got to be there. But I think it just comes down to execution and finishing at the end of the day. So the good thing is the looks are there. So we just got to bury more.”
Does it really come down to finishing?
The Penguins had only 12 scoring chances in the first 40 minutes. If not for the final furious rush, they would have been below 20. Worse, they had only two high-danger scoring chances in the third period, according to Naturalstattrick.com.
PHN already advocated for Ron Hextall to get active quickly on the NHL trade market. Sunday morning, we reported that executives (whom we consider plugged into the situation) wondered aloud if/when the Pittsburgh Penguins would call about Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim.
But short of a trade, how do the Pittsburgh Penguins light the lamp? Here are three players who could score more, though they are reaching.
Pittsburgh Penguins Goal Needs
1. Kasperi Kapanen
Kapanen is firstly a shooter. So, too, is center Jared McCann. Perhaps the Penguins will find more life from Kapanen on a different line. The Penguins jump-started Phil Kessel by putting him with Nick Bonino so Kessel could do the individual Kessel things.
Perhaps Kapanen would be best served with a center dedicated to him? That leaves Mark Jankowski or Frederic Gaudreau, but we wonder if a Jankowski pairing could be better.
2. Jared McCann
McCann can be a streaky winger, but the Penguins need offense in the middle. There is something that drives down McCann’s offensive contributions when he’s in the middle.
If McCann and Kapanen don’t develop chemistry soon, the Penguins will be in real trouble. Just as Kapanen may need a playmaking center in the middle, perhaps McCann needs a winger with a cart full of apples, too.
Evan Rodrigues may well be the key to either McCann or Kapanen, but probably not both.
In the few games since Malkin left the lineup due to injury, Rodrigues-McCann-Kapanen has just five scoring chances and only one high-danger chance, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
The line has also taken seven offensive zone faceoffs, compared to just two in the defensive zone. With that sort of advantage, they need far more than one good scoring chance.
Figure it out or break ’em up, eh?
3. John Marino
Marino’s game is coming along. It appears the few games of rest and reset helped. He’s been more commanding with the puck to escape forecheckers. Maybe he’s ready to blitz the offensive zone more aggressively.
Kris Letang, Mike Matheson, and even Cody Ceci have been doing it on the top two pairs. Marino can complete the blueline with more pressure.
However, a defenseman won’t score many goals without a booming shot. So, Marino can provide more pressure, but the bottom six will have to make more space at the net to convert the pressure. The same goes for three of the four Penguins lines (all except Sidney Crosby’s line), actually.
4. Anthony Angello
Angello has been forceful in his ice time over the last week, maybe two weeks. He’s certainly trying to make an impact, literally and figuratively.
Interesting anomaly: Angello has played with McCann only 2:29, but the situations have yielded three shots on goal and none against. Of course, that’s in a whopping two minutes, but maybe Angello could do the dirty work, which would free McCann to shoot?
Desperate times call for desperate measures and head coach Mike Sullivan has been known to put his lines in a blender when necessary. Could Angello be one of the recipients?
None of the above has to be great. They just have to be better than what has existed over the last few games.
In the East Division, Philadelphia is reeling. Boston still hasn’t put all of the pieces together. If the Penguins can muster a few more wins until Evgeni Malkin returns, they could put enough distance between themselves and Philadelphia that the playoffs are a foregone conclusion.
Or, they could find themselves back where they started before the recent hot streak. Aside from the Sidney Crosby line, the Penguins need some answers. If not from GM Ron Hextall, then from within.