Written By Austin Tocco, The Burgh Blog writer
The Pittsburgh Penguins fan base is trying to figure out what is going on behind closed doors between the players, meanwhile the players cannot seem to figure it out either. The Penguins lost back to back Metropolitan Division games to bring their record to a mediocre 10-7. To be successful in this league, you cannot be mediocre and the Penguins are sitting in the second wild card spot, and if the season ended today, would be playing the highly favored Montreal Canadiens. The doubt in the locker room is definitely a cause of concern amongst fans.
Many people have asked the question, what is going wrong for this organization who formerly was able to rank first in many offensive categories. The Pittsburgh Penguins are ranked 27th in the NHL in goals per game (2.06) and only 12.3% success on the power-play. The Penguins are blessed with some of the most offensive minded snipers in the league and still cannot manage to get the biscuit in the back of the net. The Penguins have scored 36 goals and has allowed 37 goals. To put this into perspective, the Central Division leading Dallas Stars have scored 65 goals already, not even a quarter of the way into the season. Under Dan Bylsma in 2014, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored 176 even strength goals, those are goals not including power-play or short-handed goals, this should be extremely disturbing to most fans considering last year under Johnston the Penguins had 152 goals. People may think that 24 goals is not that big of a difference, but if you look at the amount of 1 goal games this organization has lost, it makes a huge difference considering our chances with 3 on 3 overtime or a shootout. What is it going to take for this team to make a turn? The goal totals must rise, and the team must start winning 6 out of 10 games which will allow them to gradually rise in the Metropolitan Division standings.
The first issue that I noticed with this team is lack of leadership. Something I have noticed about the team is that every single one of the players and coaches have nothing but great things to say about forward Pascal Dupuis. He might not be the most skilled player on the ice, but his attitude on and off the ice is clearly evident, why is he not a captain? The captains of the Penguins seemed to have die off statistically over the last several years. Crosby has many accolades to this point in his career, but this year he is on pace to just have 43 points. During the Crosby rookie year in 2005, he collected 102 points, I hope everyone sees the problem with this disturbing statistic. Chris Kunitz collected 40 points last year, in 2014 he collected 68. Lastly, Evgeni Malkin collected 60 points last year as compared to 70 points under Bylsma. The offensive output is clearly on the decline, is this due to age, or the offensive game plan of Mike Johnston? A captain is supposed to lead the team into the playoffs and pick players up when they are down. “We’re mad. . .not working hard” was said by Penguins alternate captain Evgeni Malkin following Saturday night’s loss to the New Jersey Devils. In my opinion, actions speak louder than words and I sure do hope Malkin backs this comment up with a stellar night against the Minnesota Wild. The veteran players on the team like Rob Scuderi, Ian Cole and Matt Cullen must bring this team to a level that is needed to compete and to not let anger come between the common goal, winning.
The second issue that is clear is the defensive output provided by former Norris trophy finalist Kris Letang and the rest of the defensive players. Mike Johnston’s strategy includes getting shots from 28 feet away from the defensemen and getting deflections in front of the net. The offensive talent on the D-line is absent. Kris Letang is not playing the way he should be, turnover after turnover and the minus 11 is unacceptable. He must begin sacrificing his body to fill lanes to the net for opposing teams and he must begin putting the puck in the net. No other defensive player has the potential like Letang has to score. Most of the D-men on the Penguins are stay at home defensemen which is a cause of concern for GM Rutherford. The team must come together to score, even the defensemen.
Lastly, I would love to know if Mike Johnston gets mad. His bench presence might as well be non-existent. I wish I could be a fly on the wall during intermissions to see what Johnston says to this team. There clearly is an internal issue whether it is the players trust in the coach or his system, or just the fact that the players do not respect him as a coach. If this is the case, the general manager must step in and fix this issue, it is a lot easier to get rid of one person as compared to an entire team. This team needs a disciplinarian that can get Crosby and Malkin going, this is what it’s going to take. Since the beginning of last year, I knew something was not right with Johnston being here. In years past, you look at coaches like “Badger” Bob Johnson of the early 90s and even Dan Bylsma who was relieved of his job in 2014, these were well respected men in the city of Pittsburgh, you never hear many good things about Johnston. Having emotion and a personality behind the bench is huge motivation for any hockey club which is why Johnson and Bylsma were so successful. Johnston’s lack of communication with players and the inability to connect with his players allow for many doubts in players’ minds. In my opinion, Rutherford must keep an open mind and look into opportunities if they arise. This organization needs a change to get back on top of the league and win championships.
With all of the talent on this team, there is no excuse. There is a “win now” mentality and if the winning does not begin, expect major changes following this season. The Penguins look to get back on the winning track against the Minnesota Wild (10-3-3) on Tuesday, the Colorado Avalanche (7-9-1) on Thursday and the San Jose Sharks (9-8) on Saturday. I am confident that with them being professionals, they will be able to figure it out and gain confidence going into divisional play and grind out key victories that they can build on.
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