The Pittsburgh Penguins did it again on Sunday night. They managed to give up the first goal, play most of the game behind on the scoreboard, and find a way to do just enough to get a win. It is the fourth game in a row they have followed a similar script — all wins — to improve their early season record to 4-2-0. The record is fine. The four-game winning streak is great. It is better to play an average game and win than play a great game and lose. This is professional sports, no one should ever apologize for winning.
Still, the fact remains that this is not a sustainable recipe for winning. Results matter, but so does process. And having to play every game from behind is not the best process for championship success because eventually you are going to run into a team that is not going to led that one or two goal lead slip away.
In the Penguins’ four wins this season they have trailed in every single one of them for most of the game.
The deficits they have overcome...
Vs. Washington Capitals: Trailed 2-1 and 3-2. Won in 4-3 a shootout. Only had the lead for around 11 minutes.
Vs. Washington Capitals: Trailed 1-0, 3-1, and 4-2. Won 5-4 in overtime. Never had the lead.
Vs. New York Rangers: Trailed 3-1. Won 4-3 in shootout. Only had the lead for 12 minutes.
Vs. New York Rangers: Trailed 1-0 and 2-1. Won 3-2 in regulation. Only had the lead for less than two minutes.
Again, it is great to be able to do that. But it is also worth pointing out the opposing goalies in those games have combined for less than 50 games of NHL experience. At some point you will not be playing a rookie goalie. At some point you will run into a team that can lock down a lead.
Maybe you have noticed, but the Penguins have not held a lead during a game very often this season.
In fact, even after Sunday’s win the Penguins have played just 35 minutes of hockey this season with the lead.
That total is the second lowest in the NHL, ahead of only the Nashville Predators who have been ahead for just 27 minutes. The Predators have also only played five games to the Penguins’ six. Even more concerning than the lack of time with the lead is the amount of time they have played this season while trailing.
As of Monday morning the Penguins have spent 164:40 of the season trailing on the scoreboard. That is the third highest total in the league, trailing only the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks, and just ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, and Chicago Blackhawks. Not exactly the company you want to be keeping during the 2020-21 season in any context.
It is just another sign that even with the record and winning streak the team is just not all there yet, especially with the top-six forwards. Have mentioned this on Twitter a couple of times now but there is a real Mike Johnston era vibe to these games where they are dull, boring, and sometimes just plain bad. If you remember back to the start of the 2015-16 season under Johnston the Penguins started off by winning a lot of uninspiring, dull games where they never really looked good. It was fine as long as they were winning. Then they reached a point where the wins stopped. Then a coaching change got made, a bunch of trades, some roster call ups, and the new look team went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Now, I am not suggesting this team needs a coaching change. Or even that it needs wholesale changes to the roster in season. It is just that the comeback wins are all well and good and exciting for now. Right until the point where they stop happening.