Gameday 21: TIL That “Quarter Note” in British is “Crotchet”

The Pittsburgh Penguins, along with most of the NHL, have hit the one-quarter mark of the 2023-24 regular season. The good news is that the Penguins have recovered somewhat from their agonizing 3-6 start that saw the team down amongst the worst teams in the League, and their 7-4 record since then has them at .500 and just three points out of a playoff spot. Unlike the Western Conference which appears to be coalescing into two clear segments of probable playoff teams and improbable ones, the Eastern Conference is still very much up for debate. Beyond the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, both leading their divisions by healthy margins, the remaining fourteen teams are all within eleven points of one another. The same three points that could put Pittsburgh into a playoff spot could also make them third in the Metropolitan Division. As much as it may seem like the Penguins’ playoff hopes could live or die with each game, the reality is that it is still pretty early in the season and very few teams are truly on a set path in either direction.


Right now, the biggest thing holding Pittsburgh back is their power play; rather than living or dying with each loss, they seem to be living and dying by each power play. The Penguins have scored on the power play in just four of their twenty games thus far, and they’re 3-1 in those four games as opposed to 7-9 in all the other games, which goes to show just how critical it would be for their power play to be more productive. It truly is inexplicable how a team with the top two points leaders at 5-on-5 in the NHL (Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel) and the next three Penguins (which are not too far off that lead) cannot produce more goals with the man advantage. Actually, I should correct that: it is not entirely inexplicable, as the team has had the same assistant coach running the power play for the last three seasons with worsening results. If I’m being optimistic and generous, maybe Todd Rierden has a strategy that he’s cooking up in the background that is being saved until he gets it 100% right and when they do unleash it the Penguins will never fail on a power play opportunity again.

“No Todd, It’s THIS finger.”

Otherwise, it is painfully obvious that the coaching staff have no answers for rehabilitating their boring power play strategy. In fact, it’s so obvious that Sullivan even tried trotting out Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex Nylander (with a combined three points this season…all from Hinostroza) on the power play. I do not get any of it, starting with Rierden still having a job and ending with the top five offensive producers at even strength on this team not being considerably better than seventh-worst in the NHL. There may be some other issues with this roster but a lot of what ails this team could be fixed if their power play was as deadly as it has the potential to be. I get the impression that they’re not really trying anything beyond changing out personnel, which is futile since your top unit already consists of your leading scorers by a decent amount. There’s just no getting over how bad the power play situation has gotten, and until it gets better Pittsburgh will continue to spin its wheels or worse (as their record without power play goals would indicate).

Beyond the power play, everything else appears to be fine. With regards to expected goals versus actual goals at even strength, they could be doing a little better offensively which tracks when you have a top-heavy offense with at least one underperforming top six winger (Rickard Rakell) and a bunch of not-offensively-talented bottom sixers. (In their defense, we’re also starting to see a little more life from the bottom six with four goals and six primary assists in the last seven games coming from the unusual suspects.) Defensively however you couldn’t ask for much better as the team is towards the top of the NHL in goals against above expected. Depending on which metric you look at, Tristan Jarry is around the top ten goaltenders in the League which is great news because, if he weren’t, the Penguins would be in a lot worse shape. Additionally Alex Nedeljkovic has also been quite good and he’s in the top ten or better of backup goalies thus far this season. There’s a lot to be satisfied with regarding Pittsburgh’s performance to date, it just doesn’t all click at the same time and consistently enough to really appreciate how they’re doing. Absent a functional power play, the Penguins aren’t in bad shape, which is a lot more than we were saying about them this time last month.

Tonight Pittsburgh visits the Nashville Predators, siting sixth in the Central Division and three points behind St. Louis and Seattle for the second Wild Card seed in the Western Conference. Offensively they’re just about on par with Pittsburgh (except for the power play, obviously), but defensively the Predators continue to be uncharacteristically poor, thanks in large part to their goaltending. After three straight years of Vezina consideration, Juuse Saros has been very subpar, as he sits sixth-worst in the League in goals saved above average. Nashville is fortunate then that their goals against is in the middle of the NHL rather than in the bottom, otherwise they might have been further out of the playoff race. If and when Saros does come back to the performance we’ve come to expect from him, the Predators’ next problem is their penalty kill. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but with Nashville having the fourth-worst penalty kill success rate in the League, tonight might be an opportunity for the Penguins to snap out of their power play funk, if even just for one night.