Sunday's Weekly Update

There have been times in this short season where the Pittsburgh Penguins have won five straight games and outscored their opponents at a three goals to one click. Then there are times in which the Penguins go on a road trip to Florida, Carolina, and Montreal.

In three games the Pittsburgh Penguins allowed 16 goals. Florida scored four goals on the power play. Carolina scored three goals that were products of behind the net passing. Montreal used high point shots to either tip or attack rebounds, but P.K. Subban’s goal to end the second period was again started from behind the net. It is a simplistic breakdown of the game to realize that the Penguins are not playing systematically strong hockey.

When opposition players can set up their cycle from behind the net, it says to reason that the team defense is not strong enough to flush play out from behind the net. Mostly this is the case when we see forwards caught behind the play, either dogging it, or just caught down low from a failed offensive opportunity.  Similar to how a top defenseman sets up the break out from behind the net; a top forward will set up behind the oppositions net to dictate. In multiple situations this road trip, Pittsburgh defenders can be seen hugging the side of the net and sweeping the ice with their stick in an attempt to disrupt the offensive play.

Allowing the opposition to dictate play without the goaltender having any vision of the breakdown is the biggest mistake one can make. Pittsburgh has left the goaltenders out to dry over the last few games and with a simple pressuring along the boards and behind the net, the Penguins can eliminate the opposition setting up in the blind spot. If Pittsburgh wants to continue to win, they have to be just as “addicted” to the back check as they are to scoring. Right Mike?

Once broken down, on a basic level, it is very obvious that this team needs a catalyst to work hard and start the growth of a defensively responsible system. Simon Despres and Mark Eaton have provided strong defensive depth for the Penguins, but it seems that the forward core is going to be altered going forward.

Beau Bennett has shown in his stint with Pittsburgh that he is increasingly comfortable with his role. As he starts to understand his strength at the NHL level, he will most likely see time alongside Malkin and Neal in a top six role. Tyler Kennedy is slowly playing his way out of the line up and Dustin Jeffrey is continuing to show that he deserves to take his place. Of course there is also Zach Boychuck, who is a good option to play third line and fourth line back up rolls, but he has not shown much of anything in his stint with the club.

Defensively, Mark Eaton made his debut for the Penguins this season on Saturday (his second stint) and appeared to be exceptionally calm despite taking so much time off. His game was calming and his veteran presence is a welcomed addition to this club. Simon Despres continues to impress, adding the game winning assist in a no-look fashion and three hits. His continued growth is going to be pivotal for Pittsburgh down the stretch. 

Chris Kunitz how has 11 goals and 16 assists in 22 games played, on pace for 100 points if this were a full season and Sidney Crosby continues his torrid pace with yet another three point game for his league leading 34 points. Over his last 82 games, Crosby has over 135 points, just unreal. Kris Letang has his first ever four assist game, now leads all defensemen in scoring with 19 points in 19 games. Malkin is continuing to skate and is cleared for contact, hopeful to return next week.