The Pittsburgh Penguins were the second-highest scoring team in the NHL during the regular season, boasting an elite top-line and a surprising level of scoring depth that they have not had since the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. That depth only managed to get better after the trade deadline acquisition of Jeff Carter, and was expected to have the potential to go to even another level in the playoffs with the return of Evgeni Malkin.
Every possible ingredient is there for an elite offense.
They go four deep at center (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Teddy Blueger), have really good talent on the wings, and successfully roll four lines all capable of scoring goals.
Add in a power play that got hot in the second half to climb the league rankings and scoring goals should not be a problem in the big picture.
But five games into their First Round series against the New York Islanders and they have just 13 goals, a one goal decrease from their regular season total. In a series where they are now facing elimination after losing a pair of one goal games in overtime that extra goal could make a significant difference.
The top line, and especially Jake Guentzel, has gone cold.
Evgeni Malkin has not really dominated.
The power play has not really had a chance to make any kind of an impact because it never gets a chance to get on the ice.
What makes it stand out even more is this is the third consecutive postseason the offense has struggled.
What makes it frustrating is it feels like they should have better results in at least a couple of these games, especially their Game 5 loss on Monday night. They did absolutely everything right except consistently score goals. The common refrain that usually comes from that sort of game or series is, “well, just finish it! Just score! Chances do not matter!”
This is a thinking that has always escaped me because what, exactly, do you want a team to do differently when it is getting chances and shots but not scoring goals?
Just score? No kidding. You think they did not think of that? That level of analysis does nothing for me.
I am not sure how anybody could watch that game on Monday, or even a significant portion of Game 1, and think the Penguins were not doing enough to score. Getting to the high danger areas was not a problem. Getting good looks was not a problem. Getting traffic in front of Ilya Sorokin was not a problem. At times, like in overtime, Sorokin was stopping shots he did not even see. The biggest part of scoring a goal is getting a shot and a chance. Sometimes it goes in the net. Sometimes it does not.
That is something that we sometimes have a hard time accepting. The streakiness and randomness of goal scoring, both on an individual and team level.
We always want consistency. If the team scores 3.5 goals per game over the course of a season, we expect to see 3-4 goals every single night. If a player scores 40 goals in a season, we expect to see them score a goal every other game.
It never works that way. Ever. Sometimes a team will have a week where it scores 15 goals in three games, and then follow it up with six goals in four games. Sometimes a player will score four goals in two games, and then go eight games without a goal.
The season is always about peaks and valleys. You never get to pick and choose when those peaks or valleys happen.
Take this very Penguins team as an example. If you break the regular season down into five-game stretches they had eight different stretches where they scored 13 goals or less. That is about a 15 percent chance over any random five-game stretch. It happens. A lot. Their low-point was 11 goals in five games back in mid-March.
There are so many variables that go into beyond what you as a team or player are doing. The quality of the other team, the goaltending, and sometimes just simple luck. But that is an explanation that is sometimes not easy to accept because the expectation is sky high when you have a team full of All-Stars. You expect them to score in crunch time. But sometimes it just does not work out that way.
You can already see the narrative starting to build with this group. The potential of three consecutive First Round exits with three consecutive poor showings offensively. There will be criticism of the stars, there will be calls to get bigger and different players, and there will be calls for change because these results are not good enough.
Nobody will have time for the randomness of the playoffs and a short series, or the hot and cold nature of goal scoring in general, or the fact the three goalies they have faced in these series have been Robin Lehner, Carey Price, and Ilya Sorokin.
Lehner was a Vezina finalist and Jennings winner playing behind the stingiest defense in the league.
Price may not be as consistently dominant as he used to be, but he has always been money in the playoffs and still has been these past two years.
Sorokin has been one of the most anticipated and prized goalie prospects in the league for years and is an emerging superstar.
I am not sure what is going to happen over the next game or two for the Penguins. Maybe they keep generating shots and chances and finally break through and score goals in bunches.
Maybe they keep generating shots and chances and keep getting stopped by a goalie playing out of his mind.
Maybe they just simply get beat.
All of them are entirely possible options. If it’s the first option, it probably will not be because they did anything different. They just simply got a better result. If it is the second option, it does not necessarily mean they did anything wrong. That is just hockey. If it is third option, then maybe you can be concerned about them.