As of November 4th, the Penguins are a .500 hockey team. With the way that they have played so far this season, they are lucky to be at .500. To put the 13 points that they have so far this season in perspective, they are only four points ahead of the New Jersey Devils in the standings, and the Devils have been absolutely horrible. Why are the Penguins playing at a .500 level? What can be done about it?
In my previous post, ‘The Pens Will Get Better’, I talked about a few of the problems — the powerplay, Fleury, and poor home record. Though these are probably the biggest reasons for their failure this season, there are others. Let’s start at the top. The play of Crosby and Malkin has been subpar. I don’t really want to link these two together as equal problems, but they are the leaders of the team and have the contracts to prove it. Crosby has shown some signs of life, but his passing has been suspect, and he is turning the puck over at an alarming rate. He has zero game-winning goals. Malkin is another story. He has been just plain awful. I’m not sure if the attempted switch to wing is a factor or not, but his numbers tell the story — he has three goals and nine points in twelve games. That puts 56 players ahead of him in points. His numbers project to a 20-goal, 60-point season. Those are the numbers of a $3Million player, NOT a $9Million player. These two guys have to put the team on their backs and carry it through this tough stretch.
The on-ice communication is not good, especially in the defensive zone. I hope that this is because of the unfamiliarity of the defensive corps with each other. Martin and Michalek have been excellent defensemen throughout their careers. You have to think that they will continue to be. Engelland and Lovejoy have been serviceable as sixth defensemen. We know how good Orpik, Letang, and Goligoski are individually. Now that Michalek is healthy, the defensive pairings can be established and they will learn how to play as a unit.
Finally, I want to address the start of games. The Penguins have been content to let their opponents establish the tempo of the game, then they try to match it. This will not work. The Bylsma way is to dictate the pace of the game from the opening faceoff and continue for 60 minutes. This season the Penguins have rarely been ready when the puck drops. This puts them on their heels and playing catch-up — this is NOT the way to win hockey games.
I would like to ask the patrons of this blog to comment on what they think is the one biggest factor for the Pens’ disappointing performance this season. That’s the view from 207.
Note — Wilkes-Barre is off to a great start. Maybe someone from there could give the Pens a spark.
Note — It is not usually a good idea for the owner of a team to get involved with coaching, but Lemieux has to be going crazy watching the powerplay. Maybe he could offer some suggestions? If I were Bylsma, I know I would ask for his input. I don’t think he would mind.