The 2023-24 NHL season is only nine games old for the Pittsburgh Penguins but it already looks alarmingly similar to what we saw during most of the 2022-23 season.
If you remember correctly the 2022-23 season did not exactly go well for the Penguins.
Somehow the play on the ice is looking even worse this season.
Those same trends continued on Monday night with a downright shocking and staggering loss to the Anaheim Ducks that not only saw the Penguins drop a 4-3 decision to fall to 3-6-0 on the season, but doing so by wasting a two-man advantage with two minutes to play in a tie game.
It seems almost impossible to believe that a team could get a full two-minute 5-on-3 in a tie game with only two minutes to play and fail to even record a point in the standings, but the Penguins managed to pull it off.
It is now at a point where it is going to start getting late very early for the Penguins this season.
They now have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and are off to their worst start through nine games since Sidney Crosby’s rookie year in the 2005-06 season.
Just like we saw throughout the entirety of last season, the Penguins are finding incredibly frustrating ways to lose games that seem like they should be winnable. Against teams they should beat.
They missed the playoffs by one point last season after losing multiple games to teams like Montreal, Detroit, Chicago and Columbus, not to mention blowing huge leads against teams like the New York Islanders.
So far this season — again, just nine games in — they have already lost in regulation to Chicago, Anaheim and St. Louis, three teams that were miles away from the playoffs a year ago and probably will end up that way again this season.
They are again a team that is posting big expected goals numbers, but failing to capitalize on that and turn it into actual offense. They had the biggest gap in the NHL last season between expected goals and actual goals a year ago and are off to a similar start this season. As of Tuesday their 34.6 expected goals (in all situations) are the highest total in the NHL. Their 26 total goals are 20th in the NHL.
The power play, despite two goals on Monday night, has been a mess for most of the season and one of the most disappointing units in the league. They have struggled to score goals, they seem to lose momentum for the team in big moments, and even with the two goals on Monday they ended up badly failing in a crucial moment on Monday by not scoring with the game on the line in the final two minutes, but also giving up a game-winning shorthanded goal with 11 seconds to play.
Even with the improvement of the third-line due to the arrival of Radim Zohorna, the scoring depth is still a problem with a fourth-line that is almost unplayable.
Perhaps the worst and most damaging repeat of them all is in the blue paint where starting goalie Tristan Jarry is again looking unreliable in terms of consistency and making a big save when needed.
It would be fair to point out that the third and fourth goals on Monday night were following a defensive breakdown on the third goal and a power play break down on the fourth goal, both leading to breakaways and wide open attempts. But goalies are still allowed to make a big save in those moments. And that also does not take away from the fact Anaheim’s first two goals featured Jarry flopping around on the ice out of position on one (the first goal) and getting beaten on a clean look from a bad angle on the second.
It also does not change the fact that outside of his two shutouts (at Washington and at home against Colorado) he has been bad in almost every other start, posting a save percentage of .852 or worse in four of his seven starts.
For the season, his save percentage is below the .900 mark.
The Penguins have lost four of his starts this season in games where they had an all situations expected goals share of 54 percent or better. On Monday, that share was over 74 percent.
Those are the exact types of games the Penguins lost all of last season they helped keep them out of a playoff spot. Games where they dominated in every facet of the game, only to lose because they got out-goaltended in one way or another. Either due to their inability to finish offensively, or their own goalies inability to make a save or have any sort of consistency.
All of this is happening while the two biggest superstars on the team — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — continue to stay healthy and average more than a point-per-game offensively. Crosby and Malkin do not escape blame for the power play struggles, but the fact they are still producing at this high of a level and the Penguins continue to waste it with the exact same flaws and issues that plagued the team for most of the past few years is a brutal development. It is a terrible look for the entire organization, from the front office all the way on down to the coaching staff and right into the locker room.
At some point all of this stuff is no matter bad luck and a situation where you can trust the process.
At some point it just becomes who you are and starts to necessitate some sort of significant change. They might be at that point. They have four days off before they play the worst team in the NHL in San Jose and get a rematch with this exact same Anaheim team. If they do not figure something out to sweep those two games things are really going to start getting ugly. Uglier than they already are. They might be costing themselves another chance at the playoffs by losing these sorts of games. Again.