Monday, November 18, 2013

AUTUMN PANIC: 5 Things That Genuinely Worry Us About The Penguins

By GTOG Staff

After bursting out of the gate with a dominating start compared to the rest of the unfortunately minted Metropolitan division, the Penguins have fallen back to the pack, losing 4 out of their last 5, scoring a total of 8 goals in those 5 games, and triggering an annual tradition among fans: the Autumn Panic. Two things happen during the Autumn Panic: 1) The team woefully underachieves; and 2) We contemplate firing the coach, conducting some sort of a Letang intervention, flying in Malkin's parents for a long weekend, banning stretch passes, and generally lamenting that WE CAN'T GO ON LIKE THIS.  It's all very predictable. So with the acknowledgment that this is a routine early-regular season rite of passage, are there things we're genuinely concerned about going into Monday night's game against the Ducks? You bet. Here are the Top 5:

Evgeni Malkin

It's nice that the Pens have the best player in the league even when Crosby is hurt.  The problem is that when Crosby is healthy, the Pens have the best player in the league (Crosby) and a guy playing like a less-aggressive Jason Spezza.  There is definitely something to the idea that Malkin is due to break out of his slump, because he is and he will.  But when you're at his level, you shouldn't ever be "due" -- you should always be scoring more goals than Jesse Winchester (our sympathies kudos if you don't have to stop reading to Google Jesse Winchester).  Malkin hasn't scored a goal in a month, and in his last 51 games he has 51 points and 52 PIMs.  He is not the reason that the Pens feel so blahh right now -- more on that in a second -- but he isn't playing like he's part of the solution, either.

"I have fewer goals than Jesse Winchester?"
Four more concerns, after the jump.

Sutter, et. al.

We're not going to launch into another anti-Sutter rant, because we've done that too many times and it makes Finesse mentally unstable.  But the term "Sutter," a synonym for "underwhelming," pretty much encompasses the entire bottom 6 of the Pens.  No one on the Pens bottom 6 is better than average at his defined role.

The Pens are top heavy, and while that ensures competitiveness, it also leaves no margin for error in a season in which the salary cap went down about $6 million.  All-Stars and league minimum guys is pretty much all the Pens can afford this year, so when your league minimumers play like league minimumers and your $2 million 3rd line center plays like a league minimumer, the All-Stars are required to do virtually all of the heavy lifting.  Crosby has 1 goal in 10 games; Malkin has none in 13 games.  That's far from good enough, but it'd be nice if others could share the burden, at least a little.

For all the justifiable criticism aimed at Malkin, Letang, and Crosby (to a lesser extent), this isn't basketball. Stars can't cover for scrubs.  LeBron James isn't skating through that door.  And even if he did, it wouldn't have any effect on the 20+ minutes a game that neither Crosby nor Malkin are on the ice.  And that's a problem.

Fleury springing leaks?

Flower is playing very well overall, but it's not like he's been so lights out that he's diffused what still feels like a ticking time bomb.  When the puck squirts through him and dances slowly across the goal line, it gives us Vietnam-like flashbacks.  He's been fine this year.  Just less fine in November (.904 Sv%) than in October (.927 SV%).

Perimeter Play

Remember the Boston series, when Tuukka Rask was seeing everything and the Penguins insisted on dancing around only the very outer-reaches of the offensive zone? Yeah, that's still happening.

Old horses tend to break down

The Pens aren't just top-heavy. They're top-heavy with old men. Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi have already seen their bodies betray them to varying degrees, and we're only 20 games in. We fretted about this during the offseason, and we see no reason to deviate from the maxim that hockey is a young man's game. You might consider this the next time Sid Crosby plays 26 minutes. Because none of us are quite as young as we used to be.

Big game tonight against Anaheim. LGP. GTOG.

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