Last night’s 1 – 0 defeat by the Washing Capitals was the Penguins’ sixth in a row, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the 2005/06 season. For those of you who hadn’t jumped on the band wagon yet or aren’t old enough to remember, the 2005/06 season was the last time the Penguins did not make the playoffs and finished with the second lowest point total in the league by one point.
When asked what the problem with the team these days is, the number one answer anyone will give you is INJURIES. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the answer. Yes, the team is currently missing Sidney Crosby, one of if not the best player in the game today, their number one defenseman, Kris Letang and for the last three and a half games, Jordan Staal, but is this really what is causing the team to play so poorly. Let’s look at the facts:
The Penguins started the season without Crosby and played the first 20 games of the season without him. During that time frame, the team amassed an 11-6-3 record which had them on pace to record over 100 points again this year. Sid returned for Game 21 and played for the next eight. During that time, they were 5-2-1, just about the same pace they were on when he wasn’t in the lineup.
Kris Letang made it through 24 games before he was laid out by a vicious hit to the head by Montreal’s Max Pacioretty causing a broken nose and everyone’s favorite watchword of the day, a concussion. from which he is yet to return. During the 24 games that Letang played, the team was 14-6-4, but in the first 12 games without him, the team was 8 – 4. Iin the first eight games that the Penguins played without Letang and Crosby, the team was 6 -2, and if you look at the scores in those games, the Penguins were consistently putting up an average of four goals a game(skewed by the eight spot they put up against the Sabres, but still that means 24 in the other seven).
It’s tough to get a read on what effect the Jordan Staal injury has had on the team because it came in the middle of this losing streak. The Penguins had already lost two in a row and were in the process of losing their third when Staal’s knee got tangled up with ex-Penguin Mike Rupp. Since that occured, the team almost looks like they aren’t even trying.
Yes, there have been other minor injuries to other players along the way. The same kind every other team sustains. Washington has been without Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom for extended periods of time. Phialdelphia was without Claude Giroux because of a concussion, LA – Mike Richards, Boston – Zdeno Charra, Buffalo – Derek Roy, Chicago – Patrick Sharp, Edmonton, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Phoenix, Mike Smith, the list goes on, and don’t try to tell any of those teams that any of those players aren’t as important to their team as Kris Letang is to ours(Sorry, you weren’t going to catch me saying Sid there)
So ,what is the answer? What has caused this team who was playing so well all season even with injuries to key players to not only go into the tank, but to play as though they almost believe the season is over. Yes, all teams go through slumps. The Chicago Black Hawks had an eight game losing streak the year they went on to win the Cup, but this seams different. Players are taking really stupid penalties at inopportune times, not going to the net, not digging in the corner to win loose pucks and getting caught pinching in when they shouldn’t. This isn’t the Penguins we have all come to know and love over the past few years. To make matters even worse, four of the six games in this current losing streak were on home ice. It was always one thing for the Penguins to lose two or three in a row on a Florida road trip(Which unfortunately, is coming up right now) or the on the Pacific Northwest road trip but never like this in their own building.
They say when things aren’t going well for a goal scorer that he is “Gripping his stick too tightly”. Well, right now, it looks like the entire team, in an effort to single handedly be the one to pull them out of their slump is “Gripping their entire game too tightly”. I think they need to relax, get back to basics, play a simple game and eventually their talent level will show.
Sometimes, all it takes is just one win to turn things around, but getting that first win when mired in despair can be the hardest of all. Maybe this will happen though once we stop blaming the injury bug