The Penguins lost a tough one 4-1 to the Dallas Stars on home ice Thursday night. The Penguins dominated the first 6 minutes of the game, and arguably played their best hockey they have played all season.
There is just one problem: they didn’t score any goals during this span.
Following the 6 minute dominance by the Pens, Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya took a wrist shot from the point that literally floated in on goal. The puck found it’s way past Fleury, and the Stars took a 1-0 lead and never looked back.
This is really all you need to know in regards to a recap. There wasn’t much else exciting that went on. The Penguins had a 5 on 3 late in the game down 3 goals, where they pulled Fleury and made it a 6 on 3 situation. As usual, the powerplay was a little something like “Crosby to Malkin to Crosby to Kessel to Letang to Hornqvist to Crosby to…intercepted by Dallas and cleared.”
Adding to the stats, the Penguins are now 0-4 when allowing the first goal, and have been either trailing or tied throughout the entirety of these 4 games.
In addition, that 1.67 goals per game drops to 1.57 goals per game after they only scored 1 goal tonight. AND the defense gave up 4 goals against a very good Dallas Stars offense, who play a lot like how the Penguins SHOULD play. This put the Penguins goals against average at 2.14.
Didn’t I just publish an article about this? Oh yeah… What a coincidence!!
So, who is at fault here?
Here is the guy that is not at fault: Jim Rutherford. He went out this offseason and gave the coaching staff the pieces to work with, which is his job. Yeah, their defense isn’t necessarily anything fantastic, but it shouldn’t have to be with the offensive players that Rutherford brought in during the offseason.
So ruling out Jim Rutherford, there are only 2 “people” to blame here. One is the players, and one is the head coach. Let’s talk about the players first.
The Penguins have been getting their fair share of chances. They still rank 2nd in the NHL in shots per game. So why is the goal total so low with all the talent they have?
Here is NOT the answer to that question: Well, they ran into a hot goaltender tonight…
Is anyone else tired of that argument? I certainly am. Every once in a while, a team runs into a goalie that is playing well, but it should not be an every game thing. I don’t really care about Neimi’s history against the Penguins, today was a new game and the Penguins had a chance to beat him and didn’t. It’s as simple as that.
It’s on the players to do what they’re supposed to do and score. It’s on the players to be able to keep their heads in the game when they give up a goal early in the first period to go down 1-0. Those kind of things are on the players.
The rest is on the coach.
I have no idea what upper management is thinking right now, but I would have Mike Johnston on a very very VERY short leash right now.
Even though the Penguins are 3-4, which is actually a pretty good record considering their team statistics right now, they have not been scoring goals. To me, this is mainly attributed to the coach.
He has stuck with the line of Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel since day one. I have news for you Johnston: it’s not working. He has stuck with Hornqvist, Malkin, and Perron for most of the time, after making the obvious move of shifting Plotnikov to the 3rd line. This line hasn’t worked either.
To top it off, one of your best offensive players, Daniel Sprong, has been logging a team-low in ice time while getting an occasional shift on the fourth line.
Something doesn’t add up here…
Johnston needs to make a change, and I mean as early as Saturday when the Penguins play the red hot Predators. (Pekka Rinne will be in goal, and I’m already ruling out the “we ran into a hot goaltender” excuse, because I can almost guarantee the Penguins won’t score more than 2 on Saturday)
One thing that may help is making some line changes. Clearly, the line combinations Johnston has right now are not working. Kunitz has been below average for at least a year now, Hornqvist has not looked as effective as he can be with Malkin, and Kessel and Crosby just have not found that chemistry yet.
In addition, the top pairing of Cole and Letang has looked a bit sloppy, and understandably so. Ian Cole is not a top 2 defenseman. This is not a knock on Cole, he is just not quite that good. I like him on the team a lot, but he is playing way too large of a role to be effective.
With Johnston, it starts with some line changes if he wants this team to start scoring. They are getting the shots he wants, but the goals are not there. Here would be my lines for Saturday night’s game if I was in Mike Johnston’s position:
Sprong – Crosby – Hornqvist
Dupuis – Malkin – Kessel
Kunitz – Bonino – Perron
Rust – Cullen – Porter/Plotnikov
Letang – Maatta
Cole – Dumoulin
Lovejoy – Scuderi/Clendening
Let’s talk about what I changed here (at least the big changes).
First of all, put Hornqvist back with Crosby. They worked together so well last year, but because Phil Kessel is here clearly Crosby has to be the one that plays with him…
Put Sprong on the first line. Does he deserve anything less at this point? The Penguins need goals, and that’s exactly what Sprong gives you. He has speed, finese, and an NHL shot that he is not afraid to use at any time.
Move Kessel with Malkin. Malkin has been the most dominant Penguins player by a long shot thus far in the season. I think Kessel’s production increases with Malkin rather than playing with Sid who is just gonna play the “you shoot it, no you shoot it” card with Kessel. One more time: remember James Neal? That guy who scored 40 goals for the Penguins a few years ago? Yeah, he played with Malkin…just saying.
Let Dupuis play on the second line. Dupuis plays with energy and hustle and it’s a treat to watch him play. He makes the second line complete and provides the “defensive presence” if Malkin and Kessel get trapped deep in the zone. Plus who else slots here? Kunitz/Perron? Ummmm…no.
Kunitz and Perron get dropped to third line. Both of these guys have been so subpar this season. Kunitz is looking like the Kunitz of last season, which is not good. Kunitz has 1 point in his last 26 games dating back to last season. 1 singular point. Perron is invisible out there for the most part, and still has not looked like the David Perron they acquired that lit up the stat sheet in his first 10 or so games with the Pens. I do not mind them as third line players on this team, but as 1st and 2nd line guys respectively? I don’t think so.
Put Letang and Maatta together. I was not for this early in the season, but the Penguins cannot get anything working on their back end, and I think this pair would be a great first pair. Plus, I like Cole and Dumoulin partnered up.
Overall, I am placing the blame on Johnston more than the players. The players need to produce, but if Johnston is continuing to play a dwindling Chris Kunitz on the first line and sit one of his best forwards, then it makes it very hard for the forwards to do anything effective. They’re just banging their heads off of a cement wall at this point. That cement wall being the one that is put in front of the goal they’re trying to shoot at.
Also, just remember, this isn’t just a little bit of a “rough patch” at the beginning of the season. This is a carry-over from last year. The Penguins in their last 27 games, including last year and the playoffs, are 8-19 with a 1.63 goals for per game. They have scored more than 3 goals only once during this stretch, and have been held to 0 or 1 goals in 14 of the 27 games. This is concerning.
Look out Johnston, because if management knows what is best for this team, you better do something about this team… and FAST.
On the bright side of things, congrats to Nick Bonino for his first goal in a Penguins uniform. His goal was entirely an individual effort, and a great one at that. Glad to see him on the score sheet.
Anyways, thank you for everyone who read my stuff! I’ll be posting an article Saturday night about the Penguins vs. Predators game.
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