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Dubas: Penguins need to be consistent, improve in one-goal games

The general manager checks in

Winnipeg Jets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Kyle Dubas talked about a variety of topics on his local radio show. As always, it was wide-ranging and revealed a lot of how the President of Hockey Operations/GM sees the team.

Chopping up Dubas’ words shows some of these insights:

“So, we have to make great use of this next stretch, all of which leads us into the trade deadline (on March 8) – which I know is a big topic locally, and throughout the league as well,” Penguins President of Hockey Operations and GM Kyle Dubas told broadcaster Josh Getzoff in the latest episode of the GM Show.

“So, for me now, this next month and how we come out of the break, (it’s about) whether we show that consistency that we’ve talked about so much throughout the year. Because when we’re at our best, we show that we’re right there with anybody, we can play with anybody, and really take it to anybody … but there’s been too many other times where we don’t have that night in and night out. It’s time for us now to show, this is who we are, we’re going to impose ourselves every night.”

Dubas has preached patience all season long, and there’s little reason to believe much is going to drastically change in the immediate future. Consistency is the key, but it’s been an area the team on the ice has been searching for all year.

Dubas, Head Coach Mike Sullivan, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel have all referred to the games in hand Pittsburgh has coming out of the break, as they are tied with Ottawa for the fewest in the Eastern Conference. “There’s 72 points available to us the rest of the year. To get to where we want to get to, we’re going to have to win between 44 and 50 of those points,” Dubas said. The Penguins got off to a good start in that regard last night, shutting out Winnipeg 3-0.

This quote buried in the middle might be the key to the whole season. It’s very revealing to Dubas’ mindset and expectations. It was made prior to Tuesday’s win, when the Pens had 51 points in the standings. It means the team has been setting sights on the 95-101 point range for this season.

That quote shows why Dubas hasn’t fired coaches or traded core players as many have clamored for in emotional moments. It’s because all along the Pens have only had their sights on basically being a Wild Card type of team, or maybe one that can get out of the WC chase but not a serious contender for the division title.

Managing expectations is the key to life, in many ways. Right now, Pittsburgh sits on pace via pure mathematics for 92.5 points. Many online models are even more favorable than that, with outlooks towards the 95+ zone. It hasn’t been a smooth ride, but more or less the Pens can still accomplish what it looks like their preseason internal goals were, with some serious work down the stretch to achieve the long sought consistency.

“But the reason why we’re at where we’re at in the standings is, number one, our power play is near the bottom of the league,” Dubas said. “If we got a few more goals, especially if you look at the number of one-goal games we’ve been in, our record isn’t great in those games. It’s a lot of games where we’ve had a lot of opportunity and we haven’t executed.

Have not checked or seen this otherwise, but per Josh Yohe of The Atheltic the Pens have a rotten 7-5-7 record in one-goal games this season. Dubas in undeniably right that poor situational power plays have been a major factor in this shoddy record and a major hindrance that has literally taken points off the board for them.

Obviously, it can’t be emphasized enough that the power play has to drive the change and improvement for the Penguins for the rest of the season. The power play currently 30th in the league at 14.1%. Confounding and awful, something has to give there. It could be considered a minor miracle that the team is hanging in the playoff chase when what coulda/shoulda been one of their biggest strengths has turned out to be a glaring weakness.

“So, you can quote the process, and I could regurgitate a number of analytical measures and data points. But this is where you tread to that line of how much is process and how much is going out executing and getting results. It’s a result-oriented business and the standings don’t lie, we’re at where we’re at. Everyone could point to our goal differential or five-on-five differential and say, we’re due to become better. We have to execute better in those close games, we have to close out games that we have in hand better, and we have to execute on the power play.”

Gotta love these quotes from a manager. Generating a lot of scoring chances is all well and good, but failing to finish on them puts a team right back at square one. There’s no tangible value in piling up expected goals when it comes to failing to score actual goals. That can be easy to get swept up into analytically, and Dubas is an analytical guy. But he’s also practical enough to know what is important and drives success.

Dubas went on to talk more about the power play splits and how pressure on individuals could be relieved with two capable overall groups of players. And more about Jesse Puljujarvi, Sam Poulin and others.

As typical with Dubas, his words were thoughtful and calculated. He has done a really good job throughout the year at communicating his vision and explaining why he is taking the track he selected and what he wants to see in the near future.

Dubas has made that clear for the stretch run goals for the team. He wants to see the power play perform and consistency in results for the team to grab a bunch of points that will serve to solidify a playoff spot. The Penguins can’t clinch that in the next month before the trade deadline, but they are in position to start setting the table and potentially make a move up to claim and hold third or fourth place in the division if they can meet those expectations.