It has certainly been an interesting last three seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In 2016 and 2017, they won the Stanley Cup. They were certainly not expected to win in 2016 given how they started the season, but they surprised everyone and won their fourth Cup in franchise history.
In 2017, they again shocked the hockey world by winning the Cup for the second straight year. This had not been done by any NHL club since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998.
Last season, they were upset by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the playoffs. As you may already know, prior to winning their first Cup in franchise history last season, the Caps struggled to get through the second round of the playoffs, but last season, they beat the Penguins in six games en route to a Cup championship.
This brings us to today and right now, the Penguins are off to a slow start. As of this writing, this team is sitting outside of a playoff spot with a 6-5-3 record for 15 points.
Yes, the team has a winning record and yes, come April, they will more than likely be in the playoffs. With that said, their play up to this point has been inconsistent, which is why they are where they are at this point of the season.
It starts with the play of goaltender Matt Murray. Simply put, Murray has not been good enough for the Penguins to start the year.
Murray, 24, is currently 4-4-1 with a 3.87 goals against average and a .886 save percentage in nine games. This year, he’s been caught out of position a lot, has been giving up a lot of bad rebounds, and in my eyes, has not looked really comfortable in between the pipes.
The last two games from him have been particularly poort. On November 3, he allowed five goals on 31 shots in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two days later, he allowed four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Of course, there is also the fact that he missed a bit of time after sustaining a concussion. This is nothing new for Murray as he continues to be one of the most fragile players in the NHL.
As a whole, the team hasn’t been great defensively. As of this writing (November 9), the Pens are 14th in the league in goals against. They’ve given up 45 goals in 14 games, which means they allowed just over three goals per game.
While it is clear that scoring in the league is up to start the season, allowing more than three goals is not going to win you hockey games. With Murray struggling, the team needs to tighten up defensively or they are going to be in serious trouble.
Offensively, the team has been decent, but not great by any means. For a team that has the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and other very talented forwards, being 15th in the league is not good enough.
The main contributors on offense this year have been the usual suspects. Malikin (20 points), Kessel (16 points), Crosby (15 points), defenseman Kris Letang (12 points), and Jake Guentzel (9 points) have all gotten off to pretty good starts.
With that said, this team needs to turn it up offensively in a hurry. With the defense being suspect and their goaltending very questionable. the Penguins need to do everything can to score with regularity if they want to win a lot more games this season.
Obviously, there is still a lot of time left in the season and the Penguins have been in this kind of position before. You have to remember, though, that it gets late awfully early so if the Penguins do not have things figured out come the All-Star break, something might need to change in order to get this back on the winning track.
*Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette