Our Pittsburgh Penguins dropped the back end of their second of 19 back-to-back series this season by a score of 5 – 4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, last night. A comment made by Steve Mears and his partner in crime, in the announcers booth, during the Penguins second loss of the season, struck me as odd. The boys in Black-n-Gold squeezed off 40 shots en route to their 4 goals, Tampa Bay managed 36 shots to net their 5 goals, yet the announcers of the televised tilt had high praise for both goalies. Despite the high number of goals put up on the board and the below average save percentages turned in for the goalies nights’ work they were being lauded.
How can that be? How could the goalies have played such good games to draw praise while fishing so many pucks out of the backs of their nets on so relatively few shots, particularly Penguins goalie Antti Niemi, who gave up 5 goals on only 36 shots?
The answer is simple, the Penguin team D had to be absolutely, disgustingly, absent from the game. No, the game didn’t end-up the same as last Thursday’s 10 – 1 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. At least this week the score was a lot closer. However, the pathetic excuse for team defense was the same. I can’t say that I was able to watch the whole game as closely as I would have liked but it seemed every time I looked up a Bolt player stood in front of Niemi all by themselves, blocking the besiege goalie’s view. And in what may have summed up the Penguins lack of “D”, on the Bolts final goal of the evening, at the end of a Penguins power play, Kris Letang skated the puck near the penalty box just as Slater Koekeok finished up his time for interfering with Patric Hornqvist, a penalty call, with which the local fans of the Bolts disagreed. Koekeok shrugged Letang off of his skates, sending him sprawling to the ice, leaving Letang’s partner, Olli Maatta, hung out to dry on a 3 on 1. Maatta did a great job of trying to slow down the play to allow some Penguins to get back to help. He forced the Bolts to have to play keep away just above the Penguins goal-crease, all the while desperately trying to break up the play. Unfortunately, the cavalry never came to rescue the beleaguered Defenseman and his Goalie. After the Bolts took the time to pass the puck around to each other, so that all 3 would touch the puck, the Bolt who started the play, Koekoek, tucked the biscuit under Niemi’s pads on the backhand and into the net.
Where was the rest of the team?
This is a very disturbing trend and it needs to be stopped now, or the Penguins could find themselves on the outside looking in come March and April, trying to make up ground lost in October and November, with the fewest games to be played by any team in that crucial stretch run.
If the Penguins were playing this inconsistent while letting kids like; Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson, and Lukas Bengtsson, or even not quite as young but rather in experienced Jarred Tinordi or newly acquired Andrey Pedan, cut their teeth, I could understand. However, the Penguins are the 11th oldest team in the league, with an average age of 27.486. (Detroit is the oldest at 28.515 and Columbus is the youngest at 24.907). There is no excuse for the pathetic defensive performance. It would seem to me that it is time to change the players or change the players before the shot at 3-peating is lost completely.
Forget about a third line Center, for now. Find some D-men who can play D and clear their crease of opponents, or at least keep the puck out of their own zone. And assemble a 4th line that can actually play 10 minutes a game so that stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have something left in their tank for the back end of the next 17 back-to-back games.