In February of last year we had a very talented, under-achieving tenth place hockey team. A team that had been to the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season. An 18-3-4 finish to the regular season catapulted them to fourth in the East and gave them the confidence that they could beat any team in any fashion. Right now we have a hockey team in second place in the East – a team that has picked up points in 11 of their last 14 games, and all we hear is – “What’s wrong with the Penguins?”
Yes, there have been certain weaknesses in their game for a lot of the season. This will not matter once the post-season begins. The immediate goal is to finish strong over these last six games, continue to work on the areas that have created some problems over the course of the season, and develop that sense of invincibility that is needed to perform at the highest level. There are two areas of concern that I believe the Penguins must fix over the next six games. The most important area of concern is clearing the defensive zone. Somehow teams have been able to use a strong forecheck to pin the Penguins in their own end for long stretches of time. (For example, the first four minutes of the second period versus the Maple Leafs on Sunday.) This deficiency leads to opponents scoring opportunities and the Penguins taking too many penalties. The fact that this is a problem is puzzling to me, since the penalty killing has been tremendous. While short-handed, the plays are being made to clear the zone, but for some reason, there isn’t much success five-on-five in this aspect of the game. The other problem area is the powerplay. This has been discussed for two years. No one has been able to fix it. If by some miracle, it does start to click, the Penguins will be that much harder to beat.
Improve on these facets of the game over the next two weeks and get ready for another fun ride. That’s the view from E-11.
Note — What happens now when all 20 players are healthy? How can you determine which players are out of the line-up? I still believe it will be Rupp. He is playing the least minutes right now and is the least flexible. But this is still a tough decision as he is a valuable asset. On defense, I believe Goligoski should be the odd man out. His play of late has been sub-par, and not just defensively. His value is as a skilled player. This part of his game has not been there since his injury. If he is not contributing to the offense, the team is better equipped with McKee in the line-up.
Note — I believe that Alexander Ovechkin is a steroid user. The NHL will do everything possible to keep this from being proven. Hopefully, Bettman can at least stop him from further use before all of his stringy hair falls out.