What Must Improve in the Pens' 2011-2012 Season

Pittsburgh Penguins fans, after 146 painfully long days, we have arrived at our first game day of the season. While it might not have the same vibe as the first official game of the season, preseason games are small mouthfuls of water after a marathon. 

So with the start of preseason, the Pens are going to get their first taste as a new unit, welcoming old members back to the lineup and new members to the wonderful hockeytahn. As such, these games are meant to build team chemistry by getting to know each other's personalities in the dressing room and on-ice tendencies.

Most importantly, this is the time to regroup and fix recurring mistakes from the previous season. The Pens have a few of those "team mistakes" and they're quite frustrating. With that said, now is a good time to highlight some necessary improvements as we near the start of the 2011-2012 season. Maybe we can kiss those problem areas goodbye.

I'm just sticking with the what the Pens can realistically improve. As much as I wish there was some concoction to feed the team that would prevent all injuries, this injury problem will always be in the hands of the hockey gods.

Power Play

This has been beaten to death. We know our power play is awful and it needs to get better.

I won't spend any more time on it since we've all seen enough of the solutions...and the power play, for the matter.

 

Home [Jitters] Record

At home, the Pens had a record of 25-14-2. Away, it was 24-11-6. That adds up to 52 points achieved at home and 54 points on the road.

I'll be honest, I have no idea how the numbers turned out so similar. I was infinitely more confident in the Pens' game away from home than at home. Especially when the Pens had a hard time finding that first win at home, there was a strong movement that Consol Energy Center was cursed.

This discomfort at home was highlighted by two of their worst losses of the season, both against Boston. The Pens gave up leads in a matter of seconds when wins seems right at their fingertips. But the list goes further than the two Boston games.

For some unexplainable reason, the Pens played an unstable game at home while their game away was pretty impressive.

This season, the Pens should really try to tap into the home-cooking in Pittsburgh and make use of the good fan base we have. Once Pittsburgh fans are rocking, there's no shutting us up.

 

Finishing in 60 Minutes

23 of the Pens' games went into overtime, 13 of those went into a shootout.

There's obviously nothing wrong with needing extra time to decide a game, but the Pens seemed to depend on it a little too much.

You could rightfully argue that the fact the Pens should be applauded for taking teams into overtime with the lack of scoring talent for most of the season. I say the Pens need to make sure they avoid falling into that habit.

After a while, giving up those extra points, especially to Eastern Conference or Atlantic Division teams, could hurt them.

The overarching point is that the Pens could use more fight within the 60-minute time period, specifically at the end of the third period when they have given up the most goals. In fact, the Pens have shown that as games progress, they are more likely to allow goals: 58 goals allowed in the first period, 65 in the second and 68 in the third. Not a huge disparity, but it's still there.

While the Pens have shown their supremacy in the shootout, repeated wins in that department only provide a temporary fix. Shootouts aren't in the NHL's repertoire after the regular season. I'll never complain about getting those extra points, but the ability to close off a game in 60 is far more valuable, especially to the players' bodies and our stress levels.



Penalty Problem

The Pens took 480 penalties in 2010-2011, good for most in the NHL. 1388 minutes in the sin bin (second behind the New York Islanders, but we all know why).

Bylsma's system asks for some scrappy play, but the Pens took far too many penalties in games. Many times, they would come in the final minutes of a game and allow the opposition to tie the score or take the lead.

The Pens need to reel it in at points because their over-aggressiveness is hurting the team, not helping.

The benefit to the many penalties was the incredible effectiveness of the Pens' penalty kill. They ended the regular season atop the NHL.

With that said, killing penalties prevents losses; they don't bring wins.

The Pens need to depend on their game to win. Spending two minutes diving in front of slap shots and breaking up passes isn't how that can happen.

 

3rd Period Comebacks

0.

No, that's not how many power play goals the Pens scored in the second half of the season; it's how many times the Pens came back from a deficit to win after the second period.

This number is troublesome and easily the biggest problem the Pens faced other than the power play. Also keep in mind that the Pens gave up more goals in the third period than any other. This problem isn't much of a problem if the Pens can keep their leads.

Every team that has won the Cup since the lockout has been in the top 10 in the NHL in comebacks after the second period. The fact that the Pens didn't do it once shows that their resilience has to improve and we know it can. The Pens were the Comeback Kids back in their Cup-winning 2008-2009 season; they won 11 games when trailing going into the third, most in the League.

Every successful hockey team needs to be able to put prior mistakes behind them and find a way to win when behind. In the end, it's the character points that will count more than the points on the rankings. That character definitely helped carry the Pens to their third Stanley Cup. Good things will come if they can consistently come back from deficits.

***

Those were the most glaring issues I saw all last season and when I look back at them, I'm very grateful. How many teams would kill for these issues? I'm talking about the teams who have poor locker room spirit or teams who have a bad power play AND bad penalty kill.

We're stepping into this hockey season with a solid group of players and a few more who can hopefully return once the season is underway. The Pens are in pretty good shape right now and they have plenty of time to get better.

And as always, the Stanley Cup is very much possible.

Go Pens!

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