The Pittsburgh Penguins reached the quarter-point of their truncated 48-game schedule a week ago against the New Jersey Devils. A game which they lost 3-1, capping a weekend that saw them swept by division rival New Jersey in a home and home series.
So how do the Pens stack up so far in this shortened NHL campaign?
Well, for starters, they seem to have righted the ship after last weekend’s mess to the Devils, going 3-0 this week which included two more quality road wins in Winnipeg and Buffalo.
But I don’t think that the Penguins have found their stride just yet (scary, huh?).
On the road, this team is nearly unbeatable. They’ve gotten off to the best road start in franchise history over a ten game span, going 8-2. They’ve scored the first goal in every road game thus far, and anyone who knows hockey will tell you how important that is.
But at home it’s been a different story. The Pens are just .500 at the big coal mine. The losses have all been the same; severely out-hustled, out-worked, and overall out-played. Twice by inferior opponents (Toronto and the NY Islanders). The wins, just the opposite. The Pens came with energy, gumption (thanks Tanner Glass) and purpose.
At 11-5-0 (22 pts, 1st in the Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference) the Pens are one of the best teams in the league, record/points-wise. But their losses have been bad. Really bad. And that is what has me, and I dare say, many other Pens fans worried. This team is a powerhouse. One of, if not THE most talented team in the league. Losing to the likes of the NY Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets (two of those on home ice) is just unacceptable.
Now, I understand that no one (not even Chicago) will go undefeated over the course of 48 games. But you can’t play down to, or below for that matter, the level of your opponent. Looking uninspired and uninterested at times has really hurt this team. Just imagine what they could be (14-2-0) had they come ready to play against the Leafs, Isles and Jets.
(Side bar: Losing to the NJ Devils is nothing to be ashamed of. They’re a system hockey team, and have been for nearly two decades. They play their system as well as, if not better than, any other team in the league plays it’s system. If they get a lead, it’s almost over.)
There is, however, something missing from this team. That something, to try to describe it adequately, is Billy Guerin-esque. This team needs an injection of passion and desire every time they step on to the ice. Billy Guerin brought that after being traded to Pittsburgh in 2009. Can the Pens find that injection themselves, or will it take GM Ray Shero making a move or two (or three) to light a fire under their collective rear-ends? Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t panic-button, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stuff. The Penguins simply need to have a bit more drive and enthusiasm over the last 3/4 of the season. Having a bad game here and there, losing to a team that maybe you should beat (Isles/Jets) once in a while won’t kill you. But it can’t be a nightly occurrence. Simply put, beat the teams that you’re “supposed” to beat.
All of this said I believe that the Penguins will find their stride in the coming weeks. Stringing together some wins (knock on wood, the count is currently at 3) will boost their confidence, which in turn will help them “get to their game.”
Bottom line, because of the shortened season, every game is a big game. You can’t give up 2 points simply because you failed to bring effort on a given night. Don’t be surprised if the flightless birds suddenly take off and start to pull away.
They’re almost too good not to.
As always thanks for reading! Here’s to good hockey.