When Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas talked to Josh Getzoff earlier this week, he left some clues about what might be on the horizon for the team:
“I think part of that is just professional sports, and the ebbs and flows of a season. When you’re immersed deeply in it day in and day out, you can forget that pretty quickly, and the fans and media can forget that very quickly, because it’s emotional,” Dubas said. “You want the team to be at their best every single night.
“When the team isn’t at their best, especially a team like this that has won championships here and had great success here, the angst starts to come. It’s at that point where I think my job and (Head Coach Mike Sullivan)’s job is most important – to fight that off and help to get the team moving in the right direction.”
In a lot of ways, Dubas sounds measured like a manager putting stock in the team’s November record of 8-4-1 as much as the poor 3-6-0 start in October. But the December results (0-1-2) are back to a downward trend at a time where the team still needs to play catch-up.
Now 25 games into the season, the Penguins only have 25 points in the standings on an 11-11-3 record. To be on a pace for 96 points on the season and a likely playoff spot, a team would need 29 points right now. The Pens are falling behind that metric and the longer they hang at the .500 mark going into the season, the deeper the hole becomes.
Dubas highlighted this Florida trip as as a key to “dictate the course of where we go”.
“Can we clean up a lot of the stuff that we’ve let slip against Philadelphia, and find our way against a very difficult opponent on the road in two of them?” Dubas said. “That’s for me, as I continue to get to know and learn this group, the different things that I’m looking for that will be instructive to how we dictate the course of where we go in the second half of the year.”
Well, so far it’s not so good. Pittsburgh might have played their most confounding, frustrating and lackluster game in Tampa last night in a lifeless loss.
After the game, there was a players only meeting in the Tampa visiting room. That’s never a good sign for the mental state of a team, but at this point shutting the doors and having some yelling couldn’t hurt things.
After the meeting, Sidney Crosby’s words were optimistic but the look on his face as he shook his head side-to-side conveyed with body language the frustration of the moment in scratching his chin and shrugging his shoulders.
Crosby: "Any time we felt like we got a little momentum either we're in the box or they scored. We've still got to find a way. We were down 2-0 last time we were here and climbed back into it. We've got to find a way to get that next one and get back in the game." pic.twitter.com/TKyjEk2Xb6— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 7, 2023
“I think there’s nights when you’re going to struggle,” Crosby said. “What do we have, points in five of our last six games?”. That is true, the Pens are 2-1-3 in their last six games, with last night being the only regulation loss. It also means only two wins in six from a different perspective.
“It’s not ideal. But it could be worse, we’re a little bit banged up. We’re not always going to come in here and dominate them. You have to find a way to generate offense, and we didn’t tonight.”
At a time like this, with the season needing some sort of refresh, eyes will turn back to Dubas to see how he responds to what he called the “angst” of the situation. Trades are difficult to make early in the season, teams across the league are generally reluctant at this time to figure out how to navigate tight salary cap situations that exist almost everywhere, including on Pittsburgh’s books.
The Penguins have tried shuffling lines of late, but to no avail. Riley Smith is ice cold. Rickard Rakell remains on IR. Bryan Rust could now be joining the injured list after missing the third period last night. The bottom-six is rife with low-impact passengers. The situation 25 games in doesn’t appear that much different than what was apparent early on: the roster has issues that aren’t capable being solved internally.
The power play is now in single digits at 9.9% and gone 12 games without a goal. The defense is allowing rushes against at rates higher than almost anyone. The problems are many and extend to just about everywhere but the goaltending and first line play at even strength.
Tomorrow night’s game ends a stretch of four games in seven days. Once the Pens make it through that, the schedule lightens up for much of the remainder of this month in terms of games to play with only seven games in the next three weeks. But their overall position and issues will still be in place, regardless of the outcome of a game on the road against a tough Panthers opponent.
That will shift the focus back to Dubas and what actions he might choose or even has the capability in order to give the team a boost. Whether the comes to be changes in player personnel, the coaching staff or both- if the first 25 games have shown anything, it is that answers are needed.