by Dr. Steve Mancini
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
With approximately a third of the season gone, the Penguins find themselves on the outside of the current playoff projection, looking in for the second straight year. And if their play doesn’t improve in the remaining two thirds of the campaign, then this is unlikely to change.
About 2 months ago, I wrote an article laying out the Penguin roster based on the off season
moves made by new GM Kyle Dubas. While no one can argue the great move bringing in Erik Karlsson and backup goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, I was very clear that while other moves made the team ‘different’, they were still the same… only older.
Let’s start with the defense. Overall, Erik Karlsson has not disappointed. I like Sullivan’s moving
him to the top power play unit in an attempt to reinvigorate a pretty stale powerplay. So far, Erik
Karlsson is scoring well, currently sitting 4th in the team in overall points. I also like that he’s play well in the defensive zone and been more than just a ‘points guy’.
Between Karlsson, Petterson, and Graves, the Pens finally have some actual “defensive-
What about Kris Letang? His production is definitely slipping, but overall, that’s not so concerning. What is concerning is he continues to make bad choices in the defensive zone, often in the form of unnecessary, risky passes. As he is getting older, I am not seeing him recover as quickly and there were a few games he really looked his age. For the record, he is still a good defenseman, but at 36,
time is catching up. Overall, the defense has struggled in the zone where they seem to get trapped,
often scrambling but somehow, teams are not capitalizing as much as they could (forget about that
Toronto game). The result has been some very easy goals against that cannot be blamed on goaltending.
And speaking of goaltending, the team’s starting netminder, Tristan Jarry has been, well, Tristan Jarry. At times, he looks fantastic. Then there are those Toronto and Tampa Bay games where he looks like a backup. Again, the defense is sometimes very weak in front of him, so not all the blame can fall to Jarry, but he just does not seem to be playing consistently and that is key to getting any traction.
Backup goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, on the other hand, does seem to be playing consistently. His stats show it, owning a.925 save percentage and 2.58 goals against. Many writers, me included, thought he’d develop into a more than serviceable backup, and now I’m not so sure Jarry ends the
season as the Pens' starter unless he goes on a tear, which he is certainly capable of.
The scoring on the team has been the ultimate challenge. Going back to last season, there was no depth scoring nor was there even consistent scoring on the top 6. Dubas tried to fix this but like I said in my previous article, it is different but still the same. This team cannot win relying solely on Crosby and Guentzel to be their regular points producers. Malkin is simply not an elite player anymore. Yes, Malkin is 3rd on the team in overall points, with 4 of those points coming in 1 game, and yet he’s only a +1. Why? He is second on the team behind Letang in penalty minutes. That is a problem. With 2 of your 3 elite players sitting in the box more than anyone, the Pens have struggled to put points on the board. In fact, it is likely costing the team goals as the sport the unwanted rank of 27 out of 32 teams in goals scored overall.
The good news is they are ranked 10 out 32 in goals against, so despite a shaky defense at times,
there is enough there to keep the scores low. However, they need to find consistent scoring out of their top 6 while keeping the powerplay going and find someone in the bottom 6 to start finding the back of the net.
The Pens should consider finding opportunities to rotate in some of their Wilkes Barre talent, if
not only to infuse some energy and youth into one of the oldest lineups in the league. Fresh legs are going to be a must on a team filled with 30-something-year-olds. It’s a long 82 games and they already have ground to make up. They are 3 points out of the wild card and unless they start going on long winning streaks, teams like Boston, Toronto, Florida, New York, and surprise, Philadelphia aren’t going away anytime soon. Let’s hope the Pens don’t fade down the stretch, leaving fans looking at playoff brackets from the outside again.