Last season, Mike Sullivan didn’t take long in his assessment of what ailed the Penguins under former Head Coach Mike Johnston. The way in which the former coaching staff had their forwards and defensemen positioning themselves in the defensive zone provided little in the way of imagination for the skill to take over against the opposition.
We can all reminisce to the struggles of Sidney Crosby and the discussion wondering why he and Evgeni Malkin were being asked to skate so low in the defensive zone, shift after shift. A few games into his reign, Sullivan made sure those guys knew their accountability defensively had to take shape but also the dynamic talent of the skating and puck skills needed to be let loose.
We know the result, Stanley Cup champions.
This season, not much has changed from the starting 18, minus defensemen Ben Lovejoy and even the record is humming along in the first month of the season at 6-2-1.
Yet, no one seems to be happy.
Penguins fans, take notice because far too often in the last 30 years, good teams before us wouldn’t be this open about the details. They’d just point to the standings and their record but not these Penguins.
Not Sullivan, not Rutherford, not Crosby, not Malkin, not Fleury, not Letang and not any other player. We’ve heard and read the quotes, they’re all saying the same thing.
This is organizational leadership.
This is a team who wants to prove something about themselves.
No one has won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-1998.
There’s good reason for that in the last ten years because the salary cap management by NHL General Managers is far too often short-sighted and looking to make a big splash at the cost of the long-term effects to the cap.
So, coach about defensive zone exits?
Let’s hear Mike Sullivan talk about the team’s work so far and ¾ way he comments about the exits but notice the sarcastic shot at the Flyers shot clock tonight. Philadelphia launched pucks but a ton didn’t stand a chance of going on goal. The Penguins had the lead in what leads to goals, scoring chances 19-17.
Now, let’s look those zone exits or..
First here’s a look at the virtual empty net goal scored by Wayne Simmonds
Even Flyers fans were happy with the 2-0 lead
Flyers are making a mess of the Pens in the offensive zone. That was Wayne Simmonds' 6th goal in 9 games.— Ryan Bright (@philabright) October 29, 2016
Here’s a quick view on what went wrong on this goal, simply put left-wingers are losing the battle on the boards.
Olli Maatta and Nick Bonino aptly pressure Simmonds at the outside of the right-wing circle and Carl Hagelin is in position behind to chase the loose puck and get the zone exit.
Simmonds turns around on the backhand and somehow the puck eludes Hagelin.
You saw the breakdown from there in the video.
The same thing happened to Chris Kunitz on Jakub Voracek’s first goal from long distance in which most of the attention is on Cole's high screen and Fleury's glove betraying him.
Fleury works the puck around as it eludes Ian Cole and Voracek giving Kunitz a clear chance to get the exit.
Kunitz fails, Malkin is late in support against Sean Couturier and then fire wagon hockey again.
The same left-side failures happen again on the third goal scored by Claude Giroux.
Video evidence first…
We won’t need a 5-minute replay review to break this down as Radko Gudas make an outstanding individual effort to keep the puck in, then wins the puck battle against Matt Cullen and Olli Maatta.
Again, left-wing boards is the exposed side of the ice.
Maatta with a clear shot to get the puck, fails to do so…
Daley is caught moving one way thinking Maatta has control and leaves Giroux wide open
While a lot is being discussed about the zone exits and making good passes, little plays along the boards have hurt the Penguins more than just the lack of tape-to-tape passing, especially last night for three goals against in Philadelphia.
A winning trend
There's plenty to be happy about with a 6-2-1 record, it could be worse and while the Penguins are not thrilled with the volume of shot attempts coming their way, a more positive trend is weighing heavily in their favor.
Even-Strength Scoring Chances.
Last night alone, Penguins lead 19-17 in a game that had them losing 42-27 shots on goal and 92-53 shot attempts.
I mean, look at those shot attempts...
But even better are those even-strength scoring chances
As for Scoring Chances % on the season, Penguins are owning at 55.42%
This week's trip to California should be another good test for the Penguins as they build towards playoff hockey in April, chances are, they'll manage just fine.