The thought that I keep having after the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday is that I loved the process and I hate the result. For most of the third period that is exactly the vibe I kept getting from watching it.
The Penguins were on their game.
They played probably their best 60-minute regulation game in weeks and absolutely deserved a couple of points in the standings given that play.
But the longer it went without another goal, and especially after Ryan Poehling missed on that wide open look in the third period, it just had the feel that something stupid was going to prevent them from getting a second point.
That is exactly what happened.
So let’s dig into some random Sunday night thoughts on the Penguins.
1. The overtime problem is completely changing the outlook of the season
This is not an exaggeration. The perception of the Penguins season would be completely different if they had any idea how to play in overtime.
We already looked at some of the problems in detail earlier this week, and they just keep getting dumber and dumber.
On Sunday, it was Marcus Pettersson coming off the bench too soon and having a potential game-winning goal negated because he gave them too many men on the ice.
Predictably, New Jersey scored on the ensuing power play.
The Penguins are now 2-8 in games decided in overtime this season. That is appalling, and it is leaving so many important points on the table.
If the Penguins were even .500 in those 10 games and had a 5-5 record in overtime they would have 57 points on the season and be tied with the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division. They would also be on a 100-point pace and have some additional cushion in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.
As it stands right now they are still in a solid position. By points percentage they have the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference. But that still leaves them in a Wild Card spot where this is less margin for error. It also puts them in a position where they might have to play a team like Boston in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That would not be ideal. Or fun.
But you would probably feel a lot different about the Penguins season right now if they were something like 26-15-5 at the moment instead of 23-15-8, especially if one or two of those games broke up those seven-and six-game losing streaks earlier in the year. They could easily be that with some better play in overtime.
If nothing else, it shows the fine line between winning and losing and how tight these games are. Whatever flaws the Penguins do have (and they do have flaws) they should be better than this in the standings.
2. There are still some positives to take away here
Mostly, I just like the way the Penguins have played the past handful of games. They have 10 out of a possible 16 points over the past eight games, and Sunday’s game was the exact type of hockey you want to see them play. They mostly dominated a very good team. They just could not buy a goal. It was a puck luck loss. That sort of effort and process will result in a lot more wins in the future.
It might be a coincidence that they started to play a little better with the return of Jeff Petry and Tristan Jarry. Playing without your starting goalie and two of your top-four defenders is a pretty big deal and most teams would not be okay with that.
Get Kris Letang back and then you might really be on to something. At least on defense and on the power play.
3. They still need some help and have a glaring need
The best way to avoid losing in overtime and to avoid your overtime struggles is to win games in regulation and avoid games going to overtime. The best way to do that is to get scoring from more than your top two lines. The Penguins have one goal from their bottom-six over the past seven games and even though Kasperi Kapanen is flawed and has not had a good season, he is still better than most of the bottom-six options they have. The sooner Ron Hextall can fix this, the better. The question is how much urgency he has. There is a fine line between being patient and being careless.
4. Sidney Crosby is getting back on track
Crosby had been in a little bit of a slump since the Christmas break ended, but if the past few games are any indication he is starting to break out of that. With his goal on Sunday he is now on a four-game point streak (with six points; one goal and five assists) while his goal snapped what had been a five-game goal scoring drought. Even the best players hit a slump at some point but with the Penguins being as top-heavy as they are right now they need their top-line players to dominate. When they do, the Penguins win.