The Playoffs May Come and Go All Too Quickly in Pittsburgh
Given the situation in Pittsburgh, it is a testament of will that has kept the Penguins afloat for the past few months.
With the losses of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the Pittsburgh Penguins have suffered a loss of one goal per game. The statistics show that through the first half of the season the Penguins had a goals per game upwards of 3.07 and now the penguins have a measly 2.05 goals per game(since the injury of Crosby and Malkin). This loss of offensive firepower has the penguins in constant back checking mode, forcing the team to play a tougher brand of defense and a basic “Opportunistic” style of offense.
Given their situation, Ray Shero has made some moves to improve the forward position.
Bringing in the former Penguin Alex Kovalev was a sharp move that required very little in return. A conditional 6th round pick brought the sniper back to Pittsburgh. Although his offense can only go up from the lack thereof in Ottawa, Kovalev does not fit entirely into the Penguins current system.
The acquisitions of James Neal and Matt Niskanen had a stronger upside for Pittsburgh. Sending the offensive defensemen Alex Goligoski to Dallas brought in a much needed big bodied scoring winger and an adequate defenseman. Neal has yet to make his offensive presence entirely seen, but his strong checking style of hockey fits wonderfully with the current Penguins system. Niskanen has been strong as well. Seen as a salary dump by Dallas, Niskanen is playing strong hockey in a system better suited for his fast break style of defense. All of these acquisitions make for a deeper team and a stronger offense.
The problem still exists as the Penguins offense has been very inconsistent over the past dozen games. In playing playoff chasing teams such as Buffalo, New Jersey, and Toronto, the Penguins had struggled to keep up with the frantic pace and back and forth action. Unfortunately it lead to many Over Time losses and very few wins. Everyone is very happy that the Penguins are hanging in the running (just three points behind east leading Philly) but the problem lies with the playing style. Holding on to a spot is one thing, winning a best of seven series is a completely different story.
Without the assistance of arguably the best player in the league, the Penguins are lacking that game breaker in the lineup. Players such as Jordan Staal and Mark Letestu have stepped up admirably with the losses. Their style is not as offensive as it is defensive. The playoffs require both and the current Penguins roster only carries one. With an average power play this squad cannot be looked at as the once highly feared offense. The defense has become the bright spot in Pittsburgh. Their penalty kill ranks first in the league at a rate of 87.1 percent carrying with it ten shorthanded goals. Their goal against per game ranks them at 5th with a 2.4 rating. Every team likes to be feared for their defense, but the playoffs require a threat from all angles.
Given the injuries and the amount of AHL call ups, the Penguins can look back at this season and view it as a plus. The playoffs will most likely bring a different view. A big part of defense in a system such as the Penguins is keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Without a threatening offense, teams can take their chances in the defensive zone in such situations as trying to create odd man rushes. While having an excellent penalty kill and strong goaltender are always a plus in the playoffs, the penguins lack of offense will be their demise. When all is said and done, the Penguins might be able to steal a first round victory. I like their chances against an inconsistent Tampa Bay offense, but against solid teams with great depth (such as Philly, Boston, and Washington) I feel the Penguins are going spend too much time catching up rather than dictating the pace of play.
Thank you for the read on my first blog and I always enjoy comments and criticisms on my writings.