How was your weekend?
Chances are it was better than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yeah, they got outscored 7-1 in two games, losing both home afternoon games to Boston and Detroit. If that wasn't bad enough, the injury bug
There was Evgeni Malkin leaving the game early vs Boston, with an apparent ankle/leg injury and not returning. Then Patric Hornqvist pulled up late in the Detroit injury with some possible back/side/groin type of non-contact injury. Either of those losses would be devastating to the team. Throw in Blake Comeau knocking his head off the back of the ice and also David Perron leaving (but returning) and it could be even worse.
Luckily, the schedule is in the Pens favor. With part of the NCAA basketball tournament coming to town this week, they hit the road for 3 games against non-playoff bound teams (NJ, Dallas, Arizona) this week. They're in little danger (for now at least) of being in anything BUT the #2 vs #3 matchup in the Metropolitan division playoffs, though chances of catching the NY Rangers or NY Islanders might seem long now.
The bigger issue is discipline and how coach Mike Johnston will handle the unraveling the Pens had Sunday vs the Red Wings. The game was marred with costly misconduct penalties (on Steve Downie, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang). Was it an out of control ref or is this a bigger problem for the Pens? Johnston needs to address it.
It looks like he will too. The Penguins were scheduled to be off today, after 2 games in 2 days. That was changed into a practice.
Good thing, Johnston needs to get the team on the right track, lest shades of the 2012 playoffs pop back up.
Johnston met with Downie before the game to talk about avoiding penalties. 22 penalty minutes today.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) March 15, 2015
That's got to be very concerning considering Downie only took 9 shifts, and ended up in the penalty box on 3 of them. Downie leads the NHL with 221 penalty minutes and has taken a penalty in his last 4 games. How the Pens handle Downie will be interesting - when he's on his game he is a great member of the team. Look no further than his game-winning goal (and an assist) last week against Edmonton.
But after the whistle blows he almost literally never fails to put his team in a bind.
Even the best player in the world can't be a liability and Downie is far from that level.
Johnston has a big challenge on how to get the Pens back on track. If Malkin and Hornqvist are out any length of time, it'll be an even bigger hill to climb. The Penguins have some work to do before the playoffs start. Hopefully going on the road against lesser teams will be exactly what the doctor ordered.