We are one month and nine games into the 2023-24 NHL season and the Pittsburgh Penguins have the worst points percentage in the Eastern Conference and one of the worst records in the entire NHL.
This is not how anybody wanted or expected this season to start. Even though they missed the playoffs a year ago they were still competitive and in a position to make the playoffs for most of the season. Right now they are not even getting that sort of hockey.
There were also some reasonably high expectations for this season following the changes made during the summer.
So here are some players the Penguins desperately need to see more from to get this season back on track.
Obviously when you are 3-6-0 through nine games and have the worst record in your conference through the first month of the season you need to see more from everybody. But these players are the ones that really stand out as players the Penguins need more from.
I mean, duh.
This is the lowest-hanging fruit out there, but it is also pretty accurate and pretty much a given.
The pressure was always going to be on Jarry to perform this season not only because they need him to be good for the team to be good, but also because of the contract he received this offseason and the commitment they have with him.
They are stuck with him for the foreseeable future, and if he is not good there is no easy solution on how to fix that.
Right now, outside of two shutouts, he has not been particularly good. Even with the two shutouts he still has a sub-.900 save percentage seven starts into the season. That is really difficult to do.
His underlying numbers are great, and he has been a part of the Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith line that has produced a lot of the team’s offense so far this season.
But he is not producing a lot of offense individually, and as long as he is going to occupy a spot on that line, on the top power play, and make over $5 million per year they are going to need more than zero goals and one assist through nine games.
Overall he is still getting shots and chances, but I just really have not noticed him stand out in any meaningful way. During his first two years with the Penguins he was at least always noticeable in his playmaking, creativity and offense, but so far this season he has just sort of ... existed.
They need more. Especially on the power play.
The shot numbers make me believe he has a hot streak waiting to arrive at some point, and maybe if a few of those shots he has generated had actually found the back of the net I would be looking at his season differently. But he is simply not noticeable at the moment.
This might be a controversial statement, but I also do not think it relates entirely to him.
I think it relates to the coaching staff.
They need to turn him loose more and let him be Erik Karlsson.
We have seen what he looks like when they unleash him and let him play to his strengths, and it has been marvelous. But I think sometimes the Penguins are kind of holding him back a little, especially during 5-on-5 play.
I like the way he has played overall. But he is supposed to be the biggest game-changer you acquired and added to the roster for this season.
Let him be that player.
He is having a good season. They need him to have a great season. They also need to allow him to have a great season.
I hope that makes sense.
Sidney Crosby’s line ... defensively
Potential hot take alert.
Crosby is obviously having another great year offensively, and his line is still scoring a lot of goals.
Which is great.
But his line has also been pretty rough defensively at times, both by the eye test and the overall metrics.
Of the 44 lines that have played at least 50 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, they have allowed the fourth most goals per 60 minutes (4.77 goals against per 60 minutes) and the 15th most expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.60 expected goals against per 60 minutes).
Yes, goaltending plays a role in some of those goals against numbers, and we know how inconsistent the Penguins’ goaltending has been. But this trio is not exactly helping things away from the puck. I know Jake Guentzel might not be 100 percent yet, and I know Crosby has the offensive numbers we want, but something has still seemed a little off here at times.
The entirety of the fourth line ... offensively
Look, I know this is probably a lost cause. Maybe it is impossible to ask for with the players they have there. But this line needs to give them something offensively.
I think the top-two lines are going to be fine.
I am extremely encouraged by what I have seen from the new third line of Lars Eller, Radim Zohorna and Drew O’Connor.
But this fourth line is basically non-existent. Noel Acciari, Jeff Carter and Matt NIeto have combined for zero goals this season. As a trio, they have combined for 20 shots on goal.
There have been 44 trios that have logged at least 50 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together this season. That trio ranks 38th in expected goal share and is one of only three lines in that group league-wide that has yet to score even a single goal (via Moneypuck).
I understand they are more of a defensive trio, and to their credit they have been very good at that by only allowing a single goal (actually making them one of the best defensive lines in the league). But you need to find a way to get some sort of offense or even the threat of offense. You can not be a team of only nine forwards capable of generating a goal. This is far down the list of problems — especially because they are at least not getting scored on — but give me a couple of goals. Give me A goal.