The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a tale of two teams right now, following a 4-0-1 start to the season with a pretty ugly four-game losing streak through Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
The record through the first 10 games of the season is not going to bother me too much because most teams are not going to end up where their current record is as the season progresses, and everybody is still trying to figure out who and what they are right now. So I am not going to overreact to a losing streak or a slow-ish start. I mean, the Penguins did not get off to a great start last year, either, and still cruised to a playoff spot and a great record.
There is one element of the team right now that IS concerning me a bit, and that is the penalty kill. Because this unit is struggling. A lot.
And that is not typically something we have seen here recently as the Penguins’ penalty kill has typically been pretty good in recent years.
Entering Monday the Penguins’ PK unit ranks 28th in the NHL right now at just 71 percent.
You don’t want to be there.
But it is not just the number of goals they are allowing that is a concern. It is not simply the result of bad goaltending or bad luck. They are simply playing poorly as a unit and absolutely bleeding shots and chances against.
Just look at some of the underlying metrics.
They are allowing 117 total shot attempts per 60 minutes of PK time. That is 27th in the league.
They are allowing 80.7 shots on goal per 60 minutes of PK time. That is 32nd (last!) in the league.
They are allowing 10.04 expected goals against per 60 minutes, 61.5 scoring chances against, and 28.7 high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes. Those numbers rank 31st, 21st, and 27th respectively.
Not only are the goals against numbers bad, there is not even anything to suggest that it is going to get much better based on what they are allowing.
Compounding the issue is they are only getting an .847 save percentage in those situations, which is also 22nd in the NHL.
Last year’s PK unit (which finished the year XXth in the NHL) was the perfect storm of a team that was among the top-10 in all of the aforementioned categories, and also got the fourth best PK save percentage in the league, with Tristan Jarry in particular excelling in those minutes.
So far this season, all of that has disappeared.
The biggest change this season is easy to identify.
It is different personnel.
Last year’s top-8 players on the PK in terms of ice-time featured, in order: John Marino, Brian Dumoulin, Teddy Blueger, Chad Ruhwedel, Brock McGinn, Brian Boyle, Kris Letang, and Jeff Carter.
Zach Aston-Reese also would have made that list prior to being traded for Rickard Rakell.
Now, that is a full-season’s worth of minutes and right now we are at nine games, so a lot can change here, but these are the top-eight players on the PK so far this season: Brian Dumoulin, Jan Rutta, Ryan Poehling, Brock McGinn, Kasperi Kapanen, Marcus Pettersson, Jeff Petry, and Josh Archibald.
Almost everybody is different, and Dumoulin (the one constant at the top of both lists) is off to a particularly bad start in all situations.
Is this an area where we underappreciated Marino? Are they going to miss that element of his game? Same question for Brian Boyle.
They also have not had a single minute of Teddy Blueger so far as he is still sidelined.
In terms of actual goals against, Dumoulin, Carter, Poehling, McGinn, and Rutta have had the worst on-ice numbers, while Petry’s expected goals against have also been near the bottom.
Is this just small sample size noise early in the season? Or did the personnel here get really messed up with the offseason changes that is going to lead to a season-long Achilles heel?
I do not want to overreact too much here because Rutta and Petry especially have been much better than this current level of play the past few years. This is not their normal level of play. I want to chalk it up to early season noise, the absence of Blueger, and some new players in a new environment still getting used to it all.
But that’s what I WANT to do.
That does not necessarily mean that it is the case, and it is absolutely going to be something that needs to be kept an eye on as a potential problem. Because right now it might be one of their biggest issues.