The Pens were able to rebound from a loss in Vegas with a win against Arizona. Arizona is a bad hockey team and the Pens and the Pens took advantage of that. WIth that said, the recent losing streak and just recent play in general has been average at best. This is a team loaded with star power and young talent that is not scoring regularly. The defense is struggling in their own zone and Chris Letang is playing no where close to his ability. They outshoot their opponent nightly but are not getting rewarded for it. These traits are all things we have seen in years past. So what is different this season?
I say, nothing. The fact is this Penguins team is not as good as the one last year or even the year prior. They are not as bad as they have been playing either. The truth lies somewhere in middle as it does in most cases like this. But the question is why?
As mentioned the first issue is they downgraded way too much when they lost Bonino as a third line center. The loss of Matt Cullen this year is the teams biggest loss. Even moreso then Bonino. Even an injured Trevor Daley with all of his experience at this point is proving to be hard to replace.
This year, the Pens have tried to plug the 3rd line center hole and have failed in doing so. The addition of Riley Sheahan has not helped one ounce because of his overall lack of offensive production. He is solid for a mid grade 3rd or 4th line center but on this team, that is just not going to cut it.
Some scream about the addition of Ryan Reaves but the fact is, we do not see the stars as a whole Having to or trying to take matters in their own hands because of his presence. That is what Reaves was supposed to give you and that is in fact what he has provided thus far. Not to mention, he is a locker room favorite and a good team member. From what has been reported and from all of the audio provided to the media, it seems as if the guys really like having him around.
One of the worries coming into this season was how the team was going to react after back to back Cup runs and wins. To this point in the season, Phil Kessel has been the teams best player to this point along with Jake Guentzel. Sid has not been as lethal as he was in the prior two seasons, but one would think he is pacing himself a bit. Maybe not intentionally but I believe he is pacing himself because he understands his body and the grind of the season.
This is the other elephant in the room. When you add up just how much hockey these guys have played in the past few years, there is a wonder they can lift a stick.(an-exaggeration I know) Couple that along with losses to personnel the Pens have taken, there is no wonder they are where they are.
This past week, Jim Rutherford threatened that if play did not pick up a big move was inevitable. Well no kidding. Rutherford has been a very good GM in Pittsburgh but he has not been a guy who sits on his hands too long. Tough to question the buttons he has pushed because of the past success.
I believe a move could make a difference, but I also believe a change in the calender will make a bigger one. When this team in clicking, they win around the net. So a guy like Hornqvist going full on is not something we are seeing at this point. I don’t believe any of the guys are to this point. And that is one of the main differences. Yes they have holes to fill, but when the Calender turns to March I believe we will see a much different hockey team with regards to attitude and level of play.
Pittsburgh is a team that understands what it takes to win in the postseason. Sometime that intensity is taken for granted.
Coach Mike Sullivan has to balance not tiring his guys out and pushing too hard. If a legit run is to be made, he has to have a group that has something left at the end. To think they could really make another run at a Championship may sound natural but to win three Championships in a row in such a gruelling sport is almost unthinkable.
We understand it has happened in the past, but the sport has changed over time. And this league has not seen a team win three straight against teams with this much size, strength, talent, and speed. Yes the Pens have three huge names, but there are other teams in similar situations talent wise.
As for the average play thus far, none of that blame can be placed on the coaches. Mike Sullivan in general has been one of the games best coaches since taking over this team. He understands these guys better than I think any coach the Pens have had in the Sidney Crosby ERA.
In this case the issues lie in the room, or more so what or who is not in the room.