A team with a frantic starting goalie, a defense that turns the puck over at inopportune times, and an offense that can’t play sixty minutes of hockey; that is the current image of Pittsburgh Penguins after the first three weeks of the NHL regular season.
After another dismal loss to the Detroit Red Wings last night, the Penguins currently sit in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with seven points and a record of 3-2-1. Though this is not a terrible start to the regular season, they could easily be in first place with the New York Islander if they would just finish hockey games.
There have already been two games in which the Penguins failed to capitalize on early established leads and win. The team has watched two-goal leads disappear in both the game against the Dallas Stars and now the Detroit Red Wings. To make things worse, both comebacks occurred in the final stanzas of the third period.
Part of the reason for these two losses can be attributed to the team, as a whole, making uncharacteristic mistakes. If it’s not the defense making a silly turnover in the defensive zone, it’s Fleury coming out of the net to make an unnecessary play that that has allowed these two wins to slip out of the Penguins grasp.
Fleury is a great goaltender and I’ll defend any argument against that statement. However, he needs to learn to remain in net and trust that his defensive teammates will make safe and smart plays to exit the defensive zone.
That’s the problem though; the defense is not making those plays.
Since the defense is struggling to make safe plays, it causes Fleury to think he needs to leave the net to help, which leads to defensive breakdowns. These breakdowns have led to turnovers, penalties, and easy goals for the other teams to capitalize and build momentum on. The worst part about these defensive issues is that they build off of each other in the sense that one mistake causes the other mistake.
Another issue that was addressed by head coach Mike Johnston during last night’s post-game interview was that the team has “taken their foot off the gas a little bit” during the latter stages of games this season. Any team can have great starts like the Penguins do in the sense that they can score two or three quick goals in the first period. However, if the team cannot clamp down defensively and play smart hockey, then early leads will disappear. When this happens, the result of the game can turn from an easy win into a depressing loss for both the players and the fans.
The bottom line is this; the team has a game tomorrow night against the Nashville Predators in Nashville. The Predators are currently in first place in the Central Division and have yet to lose a game in regulation. If the Penguins want to hand the Predators their first regulation loss of the season, the team is going to have to tighten up defensively and keep up their offensive pressure throughout the entire sixty minutes of the hockey game.
If the Penguins cannot accomplish these two tasks, then the team will be staring at a .500 record when they come home to play the New Jersey Devils next Tuesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.