Penguins Back On Track, But Penalties and Poor Starts Still Problematic by @JonRudder


The Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit atop the Metropolitan division. A wonderful start to a Stanley Cup defense, particularly considering they were without their captain Sidney Crosby for the first six games. 

They've beaten tough opponents (Washington, Anaheim, San Jose), their power play has converted 10 of 37 chances (27 percent) and Evgeni Malkin sits just two points off the scoring lead as the team is in the midst of a West coast swing. 

Still, their play at times has drawn the ire of head coach Mike Sullivan, specifically with slow starts and ill-advised penalties. 

Through their first ten games, the Penguins have been whistled for 41 penalties. That's more than four per-game. Looking back over the past several games, there are vivid moments that illustrate the Penguins party line to the penalty box. 

Pittsburgh was short-handed four times during a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers last Tuesday night. That slow start lingered against the New York Islanders, a game where the Penguins were tied heading into the third period and handed the Isle a grand total of SIX power plays.

One of the most habitual offenders is Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has taken one penalty in seven of the Penguins' first ten games.  A part of Malkin's game that has grown increasingly frustrating for both coaches and fans. 

Make no mistake, Malkin has been nothing short of spectacular offensively. But while Malkin has piled up points this year, he's also accumulated costly penalties.

Let's rewind back to October 18th against the Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins handed Montreal six power plays. The only thing more shocking than the fact the Canadiens had the man advantage a half-dozen times, was that the Penguins were on the power play eight times.

Three of those power plays were wiped out with infractions against the Penguins.

At one point, Malkin took a hooking penalty just two seconds into a power play.

Two. Seconds.
The Penguins ultimately managed no goals in a 4-0 loss.
A night prior, Malkin's penalty led to the game-tying goal against Colorado on Monday night. The Avs ended up beating the Penguins in overtime 3-2. 

Several of the Penguins penalties have been hooking, tripping, high sticking etc. Sullivan has been preaching a heightened awareness to his group and sees those problems as something that can easily be fixed.

And Mike Sullivan is going to extremes to try and limit the penalties. 

"The positive side of that is that should be quickly correctable with just our own discipline and awareness, making sure we're responsible with our sticks," Sullivan told Sam Kasan in an interview last week. "I look at that as a positive because we can fix that fast."'
Even Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't been immune, getting tagged for a tripping penalty in that win against the Islanders.

"Obviously it's heightened awareness to making sure that we don't put ourselves in that position where we give the referee an opportunity to make a call on us," Sullivan said.

During Wednesday night's 5-1 dismantling of the Ducks, Geno showed just how polarizing his play can be, notched a goal and..... two penalties.

But can Geno really change? His reputation for taking silly penalties looms almost as large as his ability to score game-changing goals.

During their cup run last spring, the Penguins were disciplined, focused and mentally tough.

Something their coach would like to see return to their game sooner rather than later.
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