The Penguins season so far has been one of struggle. Two steps forward, one step back. One step forward, two steps back. An injury here. An outbreak there.
Throughout it all, the team has maintained a pretty impressive process and driven excellent advanced stats, as looked into here. It’s seemed like, for a while, that the Pens are on the verge of a breakout.
Yet, they haven’t broken out.
The Pens right now can’t finish. Whether it’s Jacob Markstrom, Dustin Tokarski, Jake Allen or Ilya Sorokin, they’ve also been “getting goalied” too much lately — with opposition standing on their heads. It would seem simplistic to re-read that list of names and not be terribly impressed by the overall skill level there. Not exactly netminders mentioned above who will go down in history like Roy, Hasek and Brodeur, but on those nights they might as well have been.
On one hand, it may be somewhat positive or optimistic that Pittsburgh is at least generating enough expected goals in the first place. One would think sooner of later the talent level of this team would start shining through. Here’s the shooting percentages of the Pens’ forwards over the last three weeks.
Some of those players may be too blase and not gifted enough to provide a lot consistently. Which is a different problem regarding depth about why two of Dominik Simon/Brian Boyle/Sam Lafferty are getting a jersey every night, even though they are guaranteed to generate exceptionally little tangibly with it.
Some of these should turn around, and the team really needs it.
- Jason Zucker has one goal in the last 17 games. That goes back 44 shots. He’s getting the looks, but needs to finish
- Bryan Rust has as many injuries this season as he does goals (two a piece). Can’t do much about that at this point, but that’s an input the team will need more of whenever Rust is able to return from his week-to-week injury that he’s stuck on now
- All Jeff Carter could do was fill the net when he got to Pittsburgh last spring, this year he’s regressed to a 7.6 shooting% overall. Carter only has two goals in the last 12 games, one of which was at 6v5 in desperation mode late in a game
- Sidney Crosby is also looking to get his groove back and only has two goals in 11 games this season, one of the also in a 6v5 situation
- Since recording a hat trick on Nov 9 (which were his first goals of the season), Kasperi Kapanen has followed that up with only two more goals in his most recent 13 games. In Edmonton, Kapanen played a season-low 11:26, was benched most of the end of the game and appears to again be in a “tough love” category from a coaching staff that isn’t enjoying what it is seeing with him on the ice
All of these players mentioned above are Pittsburgh’s best players not-named Jake Guentzel. On an 11-game point streak, Guentzel, Evan Rodrigues and Teddy Blueger have been the only forwards kicking in goals AND points at significant rates in recent weeks for Pittsburgh.
Hockey seasons are ebbs and flows. Hot streaks and then cold stretches. Right now too many of the important players for Pittsburgh have gone cold. Some players may be a bit closer to breaking out than others, and it really doesn’t matter for the Pens if it’s Zucker, Crosby, Carter or Kapanen, they simply need a few of these players to get hot and find the back of the net.
With Evgeni Malkin’s return from injury becoming ever-closer, this team does look like they need an injection of skill and offensive creativity to help players out. Malkin’s return will likely mean even more golden scoring chances setup for players like Zucker and Kapanen.
But in order to keep taking steps backwards with on-ice results, Pittsburgh desperately needs some of their key and top players to turn “expected” goals into “red light goes off” actual goals.