The Penguins have a lot of problems right now to make their season feel like it’s at a precarious tipping point. The worst of the problem areas were on display over the weekend in two one-goal losses against Minnesota and Winnipeg. Pittsburgh has now won only seven of 21 one-goal games this season (7-7-7 record). Their power play stinks on ice (literally!) and besides a handful of players and some great goaltending, it’s a brutal sight to see.
Nothing is worse than several members of the team going through a goal scoring drought at the same time, though. To wit:
- Rickard Rakell hasn’t scored since January 8th (10 games). He only has six total shots on goal in the last six games and looks completely lost on the power play, where Rakell’s only function appears to be gradually playing the puck further away from the net and passing it back to the player who passed to him (Erik Karlsson).
- Reilly Smith has scored one goal in the last 12 games. It came Friday night against Minnesota and a nice finish, perhaps some proof of concept for the hope he would return from his injury on the upswing and wipe out a dreadful last few months. But based off Saturday’s unimpressive game, that might be wishful thinking. Smith now has scored three goals dating all the way back to November 5th (33 games).
- Evgeni Malkin has scored two goals in the calendar year of 2024 (14 games). Malkin has also missed the team’s last two practices (including today’s) with “maintenance days”, an indication that he isn’t 100% and isn’t playing like it.
- Drew O’Connor hasn’t scored a goal in seven games, and only has one in the last 11. For a player the team has been hyping up and hoping would take the next step and maybe even blossom into a 15-20 goal scorer this season, he’s on pace for 10 so far.
- Jansen Harkins hasn’t scored a single goal in the 34 games he’s played in Pittsburgh this season. Based on his low minutes and lower offensive flair in the NHL, it might take another 34 before he ever does score one.
- It’s felt like Jeff Carter pops up and scores here and there, but he’s only got one in the last 12 games. That sting adds up with a power play role as well, but one PPG in the last 12 games is sadly not standing out too negatively relative to his teammates.
- Noel Acciari gets a pass for his contributions with defensive and PK work, but hadn’t scored in 11 games prior to being injured. All the defensive work aside, Acciari at .60 points/60 minutes is in the middle of one of the most offensively futile seasons for the franchise by a forward in recent memory. Last season on different teams, Acciari potted 14 goals. This year, it’s just three in 39 games.
- Newcomers in Jesse Puljujarvi and Colin White haven’t scored either, not that either has been counted on to do too much or make a huge instant offensive impact. Former newcomer Valterri Puustinen scored one goal in 21 games and isn’t in the NHL any longer, following in the footsteps of Radim Zohorna who petered out in a similar way before.
- It can be difficult to reliably count on defenders to score, and the Pens haven’t been able to receive much of anything there. Erik Karlsson has no goals in the last 10 games, Kris Letang has one. Karlsson has nine assists over this span and has at least generated for others in the offensive zone, but going low-to-high as a Penguin staple hasn’t been paying off.
It’s par for the course when fourth line players aren’t scoring, but add that in with third line players barely scoring (Lars Eller has three goals in the last 14 games, despite power play time) and second liners not scoring, and not being able to count on any offense from 4/6 members of the blueline and the weight adds up. Add in a wholly impotent power play and it falls on Sidney Crosby and his line to keep the Pens in games.
That’s a big burden to carry, and the team is slumping away from it. Since a thrilling 6-5 win over Boston on January 4th, the Pens have scored the following number of goals in subsequent games: 1, 4, 3, 2, 3, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1.
That output of 28 goals in 12 games is 29th in the league for goals/game (2.33). Scoring such few goals has only meant four victories and cast their season in doubt after firing back in final weeks of 2023.
The upcoming schedule doesn’t offer a lot of relief, two of the next three Pittsburgh opponents are in the top-five in the NHL for goals against/game (FLA, LA). Nothing has come easy for the Pens this season, but righting their ship begins with finding the consistency they’ve been searching for and seeing long strings of goal droughts is going to have to end for fortunes to be reversed. Given the current health question marks for Malkin and the lack of support and/or talent from a lot of the roster, that could continue to be an issue that plagues the team.