Gameday 16: Don’t Blow It

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-2 loss Thursday against the visiting New Jersey Devils was kind of like a greatest hits compilation of all the bad things Pittsburgh goes through lately when they lose games. Bad goaltending? For sure! No depth scoring? Like we would have it any other way. Giving back not just one lead but two? Hey, at least they kept the lead for seven minutes for the first one, unlike the 38 seconds it took to lose the second one. All of this to a short-staffed interdivision rival? Insert the Vince McMahon falling back in his chair meme here. All this to say the Penguins earned this loss across the board, and they start off this very important seven-game stretch 0-1.

Perhaps the most maddening aspect of this team is the anemic power play. Only by the grace of drawing the second-fewest power plays in the NHL is their power play success rate not at the very bottom of the League, but Pittsburgh is nevertheless in the bottom ten in the League in that particular metric. Not only that, but they gave up another shorthanded goal against to give them three on the season; only one other team (Calgary) has a worse power play success rate and has given up as many or more shorthanded goals, and that’s not great company to keep. However, the most glaring issue for me is that it often seems like a failed power play is the catalyst for the Penguins to lose focus in general; they’ll give up a shorthanded goal, or they will become disillusioned and demoralized on even strength.

I’ve said it before: the man advantage has long been one of Pittsburgh’s deadliest attributes, but how the team has played on the power play over the last few seasons is completely out of character. On top of that, this is a Penguins team which is already very top-heavy, and it’s those same guys who are producing so much on even strength who start out out on the ice at the beginning of a power play. So whyyyyyy these guys not only can’t score more frequently when there are fewer defenders on the ice, but also allow so many shorthanded goals against, is a complete fucking mystery that should have been solved a year or two ago, but is now even more glaring with Erik Karlsson on the roster. We are all not-so-patiently waiting for someone to be fired for this.

Anyway…on to the next one, another interdivisional contest, this time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Like the Devils, Carolina has struggled so far this season in terms of preventing goals consistently: they’ve faced the second-fewest shots against but have allowed 52 goals, good for 12th-most in the NHL, and they have the second-worst team save percentage in the League as a result.

On the other hand, they have also taken the most shots-on-goal, but their bottom-ten shooting percentage has led to their goals scored being middle-of-the-road. As much as the Penguins have been advanced stats darlings for much of the season, the Hurricanes have been even more so, particularly on offense; subsequently, Carolina’s defense and goaltending is somehow letting them down even more than it has for Pittsburgh.

If the Penguins do get a power play opportunity tonight, the Hurricanes will be difficult to beat. Their penalty kill is just as stingy at preventing shots as they are at even strength, and although Carolina’s success rate on the penalty kill is in the middle of the League, they are one of six teams leading the League in shorthanded goals. Pittsburgh cannot let their power play problems persist, particularly tonight, or else they will continue to spin their wheels in the standings.