The Super Basic Explanation of the Penguins’ Early StrugglesPosted: 31/01/2013
By no means can we explain the entirety of the Penguins troubles early this year. By no means do we even believe that we can identify all of the issues. What follows are three things that have jumped out to us and how we think they’re hurting the overall cohesion in the early going.
I’m not here to bury Dan Bylsma. There’s no way the Pens win the Cup without him at the helm in ’09. His system is a good fit to blend the superstars like Malkin and Crosby with the secondary scorers like Dupuis and Kunitz. He’s already the winningest coach in Pens history and his career winning percentage of .655 is among the best for any coach with as many games coached.
What hasn’t been so great is his ability to adapt. The two areas that have kept the Pens from winning more come down to the power play and the inability for the Malkin-Neal line to congeal.
In the case of the power play Bylsma won’t make any new wrinkles by which to confuse defenders. He’s relying too much on the star power of Malkin-Crosby-Letang-Neal. But by their own admission those guys aren’t feeling confident in formation–they’re trying to be too perfect because they don’t have more coaching to go with.
In the case of the Malkin-Neal line DB doesn’t seem to be interested in creating different strategies. He wants Geno and Nealer to set the pace and style of play and then assume that the third guy can just catch on. It just doesn’t work that way. Further he can only stick with a guy for seemingly three games at a time. Big Dawg got three games, TK got two, and who knows how long Dustin Jeffrey can hold on.
*Also this just in: the Penguins have claimed Zach Boychuk off of waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes, when asked about the signing Bylsma told reporters:
He could see time on Malkin’s line on that wing and see him in that position and adding speed and a little bit of grit to that line.
So in other words the clock is ticking on Jeffrey, he needs to get something done soon or he’ll have lost his chance forever.
I understand that Bylsma’s looking for that spark, but by changing every couple games he’s preventing the rest of the team from meshing.
Flowing right off of the last point is that of team chemistry. Geno said in an interview yesterday that he doesn’t feel comfortable on slower, smaller, North American ice yet. And for better or worse, there aren’t many Penguins who went overseas. No matter how well they kept themselves in shape, they didn’t have to read and react and predict what their linemates would do in real game situation. That’s why the passing has been so sloppy so far.
Geno has given up the puck a lot, and the reason is that as someone who did go overseas he is still in the mindset that he has more time and space to make a pass. As such he’s not meshing all that well with his linemates. You can see that he’s hungry, but its also true that his mental game needs some work.
Even when we look at Sid-Duper-and the Koon we see something unusual, they don’t seem completely familiar with one another. At least not how they did back in 2010 when Sid posted 66 points in 41 games. It looks, accurately, like its been months since they played together. So then consider what it must be like for the third line, which recently has been Tanner Glass-Brandon Sutter-Matt Cooke, none of whom have ever played on the same team, let alone the same line, before this year.
The Penguins are not a comprehensively changed team, but the slight tweaks, coupled with the long layoff and virtually nonexistent training camp have disrupted the chemistry that used to be a strength of this team.
The Power Play.
The fact that the power play has returned to a liability for the Pens is obvious, 0 for the last 12, they can’t even enter the zone nowadays. In the first two games the Pens scored 4 of their first 9 goals with the man advantage. Since then only 1 of 9 have come with the man advantage.
The Pens need the power play and right now they aren’t getting it. Even if the PP were running smoothly and the Pens weren’t scoring things would look better, but right now that’s not the case.
Further I think the issue is honestly with Sidney Crosby. You’ll get zero argument from me that Sid is the best hockey player in the world. But his greatest success has always come at even strength. The Pens had the best PP in the league last year *before Sid came back* from there they dropped to fifth in the league. One area where Geno outranks Sid is on the power play.
When you compare PPP/60 stats from Geno and Sid last year, the numbers are staggering. Geno produced 5.83 PPP/60 last year. Sid: 2.84 PPP/60, that’s barely half the total of his ESP/60 (4.73 ESP/60). Thus, the longer the Pens insist on running the power play through Crosby the longer they can expect it to struggle. They announced during practice yesterday that Geno and Nealer were going to switch places again, Neal is coming back to the half-wall with Malkin at the point, I think the change will only really happen when either Sid plays the point again or he leaves the top unit entirely.