The Penguins roster as currently available is just not good enough. Injuries and the cap situation are the main reasons for this.
The problem is certainly not a lack of effort. This is not a collapse. This is a lack of talent. This is players being put in a position to fail pure and simple. A collapse would imply that capable players are being put in capable roles and are coming up short. This isn’t the case. Incapable players are being put in increasingly difficult roles because of circumstance. Some of which is beyond the team's control and some of it due to their cap mismanagement.
Despite jumping out to a commanding 3-0 lead the Penguins played on their heels for all of the second and third periods. There are multiple reasons for that. The first being that the opposition was desperate wounded animal. The Senators are in a do or die scenario and they played like it. They were never just going to go away and pack it in with two periods left to play. The Senators deserve full marks for their ability to come back.
Secondly, score effects are a real thing in hockey. Teams with multi-goal leads do not continue to drive possession. With a 2+ goal lead the Penguins are the eighth ranked team in the NHL with a FF% of 46.3%. The result of this is a heavy shot volume. Marc-Andre Fleury did his best to try and nullify the onslaught but that level of shot volume is tough to overcome on most nights. It is tough, but not impossible (hello Flyers game).
Lastly, negligent cap management and injury has forced this team to play with only five defensemen more times than not in this recent stretch of games.
These are not the right five defensemen to be taking that kind of workload on:
Paul Martin 29:33
Rob Scuderi 25:10
Ben Lovejoy 24:14
Ian Cole 21:35
Taylor Chorney 13:34
Derrick Pouliot 10:03 (injured)
The only two players who seems to have reasonable usage for their skillset are Ian Cole and Taylor Chorney. Unfortunately for the Penguins they can’t have a guy only playing 13:34 when they are down to five defensemen. The only reason Chorney was called up is because he was the only player cheap enough to fit under the Penguins terrible cap situation.
Paul Martin has been a rock for the Penguins for years, but he is in his mid-thirties and shouldn’t be playing 30 minutes a game.
Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy are bottom pairing defenseman playing top pairing minutes. What do you think is going to happen? You are asking way too much from these players. Although I suppose a reasonable retort to that would be for the Penguins to not trade for Lovejoy in the first place. He has lost his coverage on multiple goals the past few games and has also screened the goaltender. Not good.
There was no update on Derrick Pouliot's injury last night. If Pouliot remains out this would mean more Taylor Chorney. Not ideal.
As for the forwards? They are playing shorthanded as well. Craig Adams and Max Lapierre combined for a whole 12 minutes of ice time last night. They are unplayable. Supposedly Lapierre was brought in for his “playoff experience”. Well last night was as close to the playoffs as you are going to get in the regular season and he was a complete liability with his 6 minutes of ice time (CF 4 CA 15).
On one hand the coach has to continue to play these players because if he doesn’t the rest of the forward grouping is going to be dead tired by the end of the game (they were). And on the other hand you can’t play them because if you do the puck will eventually end up in the back of your own net. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Some people like to act like the minor forward depth moves an organization makes doesn’t matter, but they do when you add multiple poor choices together. Last night you could see how it hurts the team in an ultra-competitive environment. Would Mark Arcobello and Marcel Goc be game changers last night? No, but that is entirely the point. They can play quiet minutes without being a liability. Lapierre and Adams were game changers in the bad way. Total liabilities.
Brandon Sutter continues to be perceived as a good defensive player. He isn’t. Not his faceoffs (which is an overrated stat to begin with) and certainly not his physicality. He shouldn’t be taking the center responsibilities in close game late in the third period. Sidney Crosby is your best player. Don’t line him up as a winger. Play him like he is your best player in his natural position.
Player usage remains something that I would consider a weakness for this team. In a perfect world the Penguins would keep Mike Johnston’s approach on the X’s and O’s front while leaving the player usage to somebody else.
Beau Bennett did not light the world on fire last night. He played OK. But he did score his first goal in 31 games. It is no coincidence that the best he has looked coincided with playing with top six caliber players and not fourth liners. This only comes as a surprise to those that dismiss player usage (specifically quality of teammate) as an important variable in the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin is putting the team before himself right now that much is very obvious. He isn’t healthy. He probably shouldn’t be playing, but he is. He sucked it up and gave his team over 20 minutes of ice time last night. He was dead tired.
And despite this he was still one of the Penguins better players on the ice. Malkin needs more time off. Last night’s loss does not allow that to happen, yet. If Evgeni Malkin is not 100% that is going to have a bad trickle-down impact on the team and their ability to generate offense.
Sidney Crosby was terrific last night. It started 10 seconds into the game and continued throughout. This guy has done everything in his power to try and carry this wounded Penguins team. I could go on and on about how great he is but it is something you either know by now or are never going to accept.
So a lot of what I wrote today is going to come off as negative and that is because a lot of it was. But it does nothing to change my big picture outlook for the team moving forward.
I do not believe the Penguins are going to miss the playoffs. They still have a 91% probability of making the playoffs. In fact they might may hit the 100 points barrier on the season.
I also do not believe they are going to win the Stanley Cup this year. The Penguins aren’t healthy enough to make a real run.
Everything I wrote yesterday still applies
. Keeping core together + Health + depth = Penguins future success. They don’t have the the last two right now and because of that it is probably best to temper realistic expectations of this group. They are doing the best they can with what they have. Sometimes in sports that isn’t good enough, especially when you are in the top league of your sport.
The Los Angeles Kings are very likely going to miss the playoffs this year after last night’s very disappointing loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
It's probably time for the Kings to trade Kopitar and Doughty…
Thanks for reading!