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Penguins’ overtime struggles is costing them points

They lost a fifth overtime game on Thursday night.

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

It is really difficult to be critical of the Pittsburgh Penguins right now because they have been so good for most of the season, and especially over the better part of the past two months.

Even with Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, they are still on a 15-3-3 run since early November, and have climbed to within five points of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

They do still have some flaws.

We talked about the third line earlier this week and how that needs to be fixed, and they also need to figure out what to do with Brian Dumoulin who continues to be a liability in the twilight of his career.

As we saw on Thursday night they also have another somewhat smaller problem.

They can not beat the Carolina Hurricanes (now 0-1-2 on the season) and they can not win in overtime.

It just so happens that those two problems have intersected a couple of times over the past month, with Carolina accounting for half of their losses since the first week of November. What makes the struggles against Carolina so frustrating is that in the past two games they had a third period lead with less than 10 minutes to play in each game and were still unable to hold on. Carolina IS a good team, and the one team in the Eastern Conference that I can comfortably say right now that I would have a hard time seeing the Penguins beat in a best-of-seven series. Especially since they were still unable to beat them without Sebastian Aho and Max Pacioretty in the lineup.

Since the Penguins only play Carolina one more time in the regular season (January 14) that is more of a long-term problem.

The more immediate problem is the number of points the Penguins keep leaving on the table by losing in overtime.

Thursday’s loss drops the Penguins to 1-5 in games decided in overtime this season, with the only win coming against the Buffalo Sabres a couple of weeks ago.

They have simply not played well in the 3-on-3 situations.

Only once (Calgary) did they make it to a shootout, and of the five losses two of them have come within the first minute of overtime.

Head coach Mike Sullivan was clearly unhappy with the team’s overtime play last night, and even referenced how they need to be better overall in those situations and that it is costing them points.

This is one of those things that is not really a HUGE concern, but it can still be costly.

The 3-on-3 play goes away come playoff time, so you do not really need it to go on a deep playoff run or even win the Stanley Cup. But an inability to win those games in the regular season can have an impact on seeding, matchups, and home-ice advantage, which could have an impact on going on a deep playoff run and even winning the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins have already left four potential points on the table with those overtime losses, with two of them coming within the division (Carolina) and another two coming against a Montreal team that the Penguins should be able to beat.

How much have those overtime losses against Carolina impacted things?

Well, had the Penguins won those two games they would be a point behind Carolina and New Jersey for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division instead of five points behind the Hurricanes and three points behind the Devils. So it can add up, and it can be costly.

The other question here is simply: Is this something you can really get better at and improve, or is it simply a matter of randomness and luck? It’s not like the Penguins have traditionally struggled in this area. They went 6-4 in games decided in overtime a year ago, 5-2 the year before that, and 8-6 the year before that. That is a 19-12 recover over the previous three years, which seems .... fine. I do not think they just suddenly forgot how to play these situations.

Maybe as the season goes on things will balance out as they get more opportunities, but right now it has been a frustrating series of outcomes. Especially with one of your main rivals within the division.