The blue line blues: Is Pittsburgh's defense struggling on both sides of the puck?

When you look at a team like the Penguins, it's hard to look past the offensive assets along the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal.  Yet at the same time, the Penguins have this group of defensemen known in the hockey world as "offensive defensemen."  Unfortunately, it would appear most of this guys are not very potent on the offense as of late. 

After the jump, a look at the Penguins' defense that is, in theory, supposed to also chip in a bit on offense.

Pop quiz: Who was the last Pens defenseman to score a goal?  If you guessed Sergei Gonchar, you'd be right.  You also would've picked the obvious top candidate, but I'll let it slide this time.

January 24 against the Flyers.  That's the date of the last goal Gonchar scored, which also happens to be the last time anyone on Pittsburgh's blue line lit the lamp. 

Sure, the assists are there, and frankly that's a huge factor for Gonch's inclusion in the list of Top 10 scoring defensemen.  He's currently ranked 8th overall with a total of 34 points, 26 of them registered as assists.  But of all the Penguins defenseman, Gonchar remains the only shining light in an otherwise dim lot.  I'd also like to add that before the season is over (barring any severe injury or ridiculous slump of course), Brooks Orpik will have set a new career high for points in a season.  He currently has 17, two less than last season's total of 19.

Here's the list of defensemen in order of descending point total.  For the record, I withheld from including Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Nate Guenin based on the limited amount of games they've played.


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Sergei Gonchar 8 26 34 -3 35


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Alex Goligoski 6 20 26 5 18


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Kris Letang 3 18 21 3 31


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Brooks Orpik 0 17 17 5 46


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Mark Eaton 3 9 12 7 20


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Jay McKee 1 9 10 8 52


G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Martin Skoula 3 5 8 -4 6

Whenever I type up a post like this I always include the consideration that I might be overreacting a bit.  We all have a tendency of doing that from time to time, but in this particular case I feel as if my overreaction (should you choose to label it as such) is somewhat justified.

Even the defensive end is having a hard time trying to uphold the role of a defense-first blue liner.  Take for example Jay McKee.  He's not the sort of guy who will put up five or more goals a year.  Actually, five is the most he's ever put up in a season, two times to be precise and both with the Sabres (1999, 2005).  What you can expect from McKee is a strong defensive game, chock full of blocked shots, crease clears and man-to-man matchups.  Yet yesterday against the Caps, Washington's Eric Fehr skated around McKee like he was a pylon, ultimately slamming home a goal with less than three minutes remaining in the second period. What I'm trying to say here is this - we're not asking for McKee to score goals, but can he at least do his part in preventing them?  Same goes for Mark Eaton.  And Martin Skoula.

The defense has left Marc-Andre Fleury out to dry at times.  Even Brent Johnson has had to work extra hard out there to earn a W.  It seems like the goalie, whichever one may be in net on that given day, is on his own little island in the Penguins zone.  Rather than try and surround him and try to hold off any attack, the defense instead gives clear lanes and green lights for the opposition to skate right in.  

There's no attitude on this defense.  Outside of Brooks Orpik there's hardly any grit.  And when it comes to scoring, guys like Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski can't get a shot on net. 

Speaking of GoGo - after scoring a goal in three straight games on October 24, 28 and 30, he added only one more to his season total on November 4.  In other words, he hasn't scored a goal since the first week in November.  If you want to make yourself vomit, look at the list of zeroes in the 'G' column on his NHL page.  It's somewhat disheartening.

We all know the Pens have had some defensive issues this season, but is it also a problem on the offensive side?

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