It wasn’t just that the New Jersey Devils were the better offensive team in their 4-0 win on Saturday night. It’s that the Pittsburgh Penguins were listless and ineffective for, oh, at least the 10th time in 17 games this season.
“Everything [is wrong]. We’re not playing right. We’re not working hard. We’re mad at each other. We need to stop, look in the mirror, and start working,” said center Evgeni Malkin.
They’re 27th in the NHL in average goals per games at 2.06. They’re 29th on the power play at 12.3 percent, which is frankly inexcusable given the assemblage of talent on the roster. Phil Kessel, who was expected to make the goal light burn out on the power play, has one goal despite averaging 3:47 of man advantage time this season per game.
Like Malkin said: The Penguins aren’t working hard. But then nothing's really working offensively. Coach Mike Johnston’s system had them at No. 5 in the NHL in Corsi percentage at even strength last season; they’re at 48.2 percent this season, currently No. 22. Their even strength on-ice shooting percentage is 5.8 percent, which is better than just three other teams; it was 7.4 percent last season. War On Ice has them at 49.1 in scoring chance percentage. (See here for more on that metric.)
The Penguins’ problems go beyond offense, according to Malkin.
“It’s not only goals. It’s bad penalties. It’s turnovers. It’s not playing right in our system,” he said.
But how much offense is that system going to generate? The Penguins scored 176 even-strength goals in Dan Bylsma’s last season; the total dropped to 152 last season under Johnston.
Part of that is Johnston’s system, which Mike Colligan revealed is rather simple in construction. Part of that is the fact that he’s trying to squeeze points out of a blueline that features Kris Letang and about six other guys that can’t be counted on offensively – Rob Scuderi is the second-highest scoring defenseman on the team with four points in 16 games. Seriously.
This is as much a problem with construction as it is coaching. But it’s still a problem with coaching. It’s a classic case of the system not fitting the personnel, and the coach failing to adapt. Whatever promise the Penguins showed under Johnston last season – reversing some of the underlying issues under Bylmsa, appearing to have defensive structure they lacked in their postseason disappointments – has been inconsistent at best or squandered at worst this season. And that’s disturbing.
But Malkin’s a pretty optimistic guy.
“There might be chatter that we don’t believe anymore, that we’re not happy. But it’s the beginning of the season. A good time to stop and look forward,” he said.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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