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How much longer can the Penguins be patient?

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Are the Pittsburgh Penguins unlucky this year - or just plain not good enough?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s been a frustrating start for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017-18. But as Yogi Berra once said, “it’s getting late early”. The season is going on 40% done for most teams and the Pens are outside the playoff bracket at the current time.

The process is showing they’re getting better and improving over time to be one of the best teams in the league since about the beginning of November in shot rate differential (s/o Sean Tierney):

However, the NHL is a results oriented business. In the last 10 days the Pens have a 1-3-0 record. All three losses were by a single goal. In any and all games, Pittsburgh could have gotten a better result, yet they didn’t.

In fact, by PDO standards it’s been a brutal, brutal year for the Pens

Almost off the charts unlucky with both the worst save percentage at 5v5 in the league, as well as the lowest shooting percentage. That’s a dreadful combination and one that’s been in effect for several weeks now.

However, back to the “getting late early” line, general manager Jim Rutherford basically made a public trade threat last Wednesday.

“We're coming into a critical point in the season (and) we play in a league with a lot of parity,” Rutherford said. “We haven't played as well as we'd like to play. That being said, we're close to the top in the division. But we're also close to not being a playoff team. So, we're in a period where it's important that we play better and do well. If we don't, then at that point we have to consider changing things up.”

“I'm not upset at anybody,” Rutherford said. “There's times in a season where you'd be upset, where you're saying, 'There's got to be more there.' When you come off two short off-seasons like we have — I thought it would take this team half the season to get going. But we're inching closer to that. We're also getting a better picture of where this could fall. What we've done is terrific. We can all be proud of that.”

The players said the right things (“We all know we have to be better. When he says something like that, we notice.” — Jake Guentzel), yet came out and lost 2-1 in Vegas and then needed a last minute Olli Maatta goal to beat Arizona in regulation.

How much longer can Rutherford stay patient? This team is mired in “unlucky”, however, when you turn the puck over and concede among the most high-danger scoring chances in the league, obviously your goalies aren’t going to give a great save %. That’s not luck, it’s just bad play.

The shooting aspect seems more difficult. Sidney Crosby had 64 even strength points last season. This year he’s got 17 (a full season pace of 41). Last season Conor Sheary scored 48 ESP in 61 games, this year he’s on pace for 29. Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin are down as well but not to that big of an extent. You would think those guys aren’t staying off the board forever....And yet something seems missing from the top-6 right now.

And the bottom 6? Well it’s best not mentioned even with a few recent goals. Though Riley Sheahan has actually been OK (Sheahan has 9 ESP in 25 games as a Penguin, one year ago on 12/18/2016 Nick Bonino had 9 ESP in 32 games) and Bryan Rust has played well up and down the lineup, the rest of the bottom-6 players are virtually useless as point-producers.

One comment that I can’t shake is one made by Rutherford after trading Scott Wilson in October. Coming off his first full NHL season where he scored 8 goals and 26 points, Rutherford mentioned how they were hoping for a little more scoring out of him and didn’t see enough of it. So what’s that say for guys still on the team who aren’t even on that pace? Or a guy like Sheary who’s barely above it?

The Penguins have been unlucky with their PDO, but as Dwight Schrute and Billy Zane taught us, a real man makes his own luck. Pittsburgh hasn’t been good defensively this season, and their offense which lead the league in goals/game last year is but 14th this season, unable to make up the difference.

Sooner than later, the Pens need to wake up and start winning more, else a major trade is probably in the works, assuming the GM can pull it off. It’s a simple and obvious analysis but as the calendar is about to flip and Pittsburgh is outside the playoff bubble, the point where “something’s gotta give” is quickly approaching. Curious to see below in the poll and comments if that would be a wise decision.

Poll

Should the Penguins make a major trade?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Yes - something just seems off and time is ticking
    (1629 votes)
  • 23%
    No - trust the process and give this group more time
    (491 votes)
2120 votes total Vote Now