Wednesday, January 22, 2014

'It Happens'; Pens crushed by Florida, now face Montreal in game where winning isn't what matters

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The Pens got rolled by a team way beneath them in the standings and looked very pedestrian, if not outmatched, in the process.  We know from recent history that if Sean Bergenheim is dominating the Penguins, it usually doesn't end well.  But as Ron Cook eloquently and repeatedly and then repeatedly again said, "It happens."

I know this is out of context, but it just feels appropriate.
The Pens face Montreal tonight and the barometer for success should not be whether the Pens win or lose, but whether they give up fewer than 3 goals.  Prior to a 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers on December 18, the Pens had given up 3 goals or more 12 times in 35 games (34% of the time).  In the 14 games since, the Pens have given up 3 or more goals 10 times (71% of the time).  Most everyone on the team, including the coaches, is talking about this slow and steady defensive slippage, but no one seems to be able to do anything about it.  Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are two of the players ringing the alarm bells the loudest, but given that their performance is as big of a problem as anyone's, they are skating dangerously close to The Brooks Laich Zone, which is where the players most culpable for a team's slide can safely go to preach cliches to insulate themselves from criticism.
Crosby certainly doesn't get a pass for any of this, as he and Kunitz have been spending an inordinate amount of time recently chasing pucks in their own zone.

It's hard to be too tough on the Pens because their record is superb, but given that the Pens' high-end talent and systems-continuity gives them a huge advantage over the course of an 82-game season, the record is not that surprising.  And it's also not an indicator of how they'll do in the playoffs.  It does seem that the Pens have made some progress since the flame-out to the Bruins last year, but there is still a long way to go.


  1. Certainly, the Pens problems are in part January drag, the distraction of Sochi, and just plain inattention to detail. But this past month makes it clear that the defensive issues are not about the defensive corps or even about the systems - the lack of forward depth is killing them. The trend toward 3+ GA began with the Calgary game right before Christmas - and right about the time the injury bug jumped from the defense to the forwards. They simply don't have the forwards to control the puck enough - and when you play in the defensive zone, you're going to get scored on. I'm not suggesting Orpik, Scuds, or Letang are playing well by their standards, but given that we've had our entire top 4 for a grand total of 4 games all season, I think time will improve that. That said, we're still going to see high GA until/unless Shero can fill the gaping holes up front.

    I don't envy Shero's problem. I have little faith BB will make a huge impact when he returns (not to mention he won't be playing for weeks yet). But I also don't see how the Pens can compete unless they get at least one worthwhile 3rd and 4th line before the playoffs; if they have to get a winger for Sid, it'll cost huge, and we're still left with crap on the bottom 6. Not to mention that BB is wildly miscast for a 3rd-line role and of limited use there. I get why the Pens would be hesitant, and I don't think that he's shown enough to earn it - but I also don't see how things work out well for the Pens without taking the risk of saving the spot on Sid's line for Beau.

    1. All excellent points, I agree 100%.

      When you play 18-22 minutes a night at a severe disadvantage (i.e., when the 3rd and 4th lines are out there), it impacts everything about the game. It's not like the Adams-Sill-Engelland combo can have a terrible shift and then all of a sudden Sid and Kunitz come on and everything will be OK. It tires out the D, wears out the goalie, and puts extra pressure on 87 and 71 to score.

      Another huge factor, and maybe this is a big reason why Bylsma seems to not be interested in getting Sid/Geno favorable line matchups -- our 3rd and 4th lines simply cannot be on the ice against the other team's top lines. They are just completely overmatched. That means that even if Bylsma wanted to get 87 out against another team's 3rd or 4th line, he can't because then what happens on the next shift when Lucic-Krejci-Iginla come out against Sutter-Glass-Pyatt?

      You're definitely right about BB on the 1st line. There is no need to trade for another big finisher ... Sid, Kunitz, Neal, Malkin score enough goals for the top 6 -- the top 6 just needs 2 bodies that don't slow the other 4 down too much.

      Ideally, the Pens need to bring in 2 forwards who are 2nd/3rd line quality ... a Sean Bergenheim type. I'd take that any day over adding Mike Cammalleri to Sid's wing and continuing to trot out Tanner Glass for 12 minutes a night.