Time to Change the Status Quo? by @MedinaMarie_PI

Having a bye week can be very beneficial. It allows players to recoup and recover from injury or illness and be ready to take on the second half of a grueling season. It also has a down side, especially when it is a team with a lot of momentum.

It seems the Pittsburgh Penguins' week off has made them soft, sloppy, and lack-luster all around. Though they pulled off a convincing win against the Tampa Bay Lightening on January 8, the score was not reflective of what was actually going on down on the ice. It was much closer than what the end result portrayed on the scoreboard.

It began to appear that perhaps not all was alright at the O.K. Corral. Suspicions were verified in the last two outings versus the Washington Capitals (Jan. 11)  and the Ottawa Senators (Jan. 12). Back to back games are hard enough but not having your wits about you can make them even worse. At a time where the Pens could be putting a gap between themselves and the rest of the division, they find themselves struggling and settling for loser points.

As with any situation in which a team finds itself behind the eight ball, it can be turned into a learning experience. What have these last few games shown? What can be learned and improved upon?

Let's start from one of the most obvious improvement and that is playing for the entire 60 minutes. It is something that has needed addressing time and time again, season after season. Yes, they just came back from vacation. Yes, half the team is half sick. However, remember what Head Coach Mike Sullivan said: "If you can't bring your A-game, bring your A-commitment level," and the Penguins haven't.

While the team has been good at come backs (with seven on the season already), it has been through a team effort oozing with a sense of urgency and determination. That has not been felt in these last two games even when a come back seemed to be on the horizon. Games (and championships) cannot be won with 25 minutes of "play hard and pray." It takes a whole game, or at least the vast majority.

Another glaring improvement has to be the discipline on the ice and both on (and behind) the bench. Not just in the sense of losing their temper but in their play as well. Even Head Coach Mike Sullivan got the boot when he made a comment to a referee versus Ottawa near the end of the game and took the "walk of shame" to the locker room after he was ejected. Discipline is something the Penguins seemed to have gotten control over before the break. Now on the other side of it, tempers are flaring and turnovers and poorly times plays and changes are getting the better of them. The stick infractions and resulting penalties have become the biggest aggravation however.  

An Erik Karlsson shot wizzes past Murray on a
Senatos' power play (photo credit: Ottawa Citizen)
Those penalties have uncovered that improvements need to be made on the penalty kill. The penalty kill units are leaving too many opportunities open for the other team to send shots to the net and are having a hard time clearing the zone. They aren't blocking shots and, at times, have been in the way of their own goalie. The decline on the PK could also stem from the fact that the penalty kill units are being over used and out worked due to exhaustion from players being in the defensive zone too much when at even strength. Plain and simple; it's coming from lazy stick handling and has to stop.

Since I have addressed the penalty kill, let's turn now to the power play.

Sullivan has seemed to have abandoned the 3-forward, 2 defensemen units that were starting to work very well. The players were in constant motion in order to draw defensemen in or put them out of position, open up lanes and put shots on the net.

Flash forward eight days and the power play is once again stagnant and stationary. There is another work for that...predictable. Predictability is easy to defend hence why few shots are getting through and more time is spent chasing the puck or worse, defending against short handed opportunities.

Part of that predictability is coming from Phil Kessel. Yes we all love Phil, but he has a shot style that he rarely changes and he is known to not be a fan of the "one-timer". But these are the shots that create rebounds and when you have someone who lives in front of the net, like Patric Hornqvist or even Sidney Crosby where the power play is concerned, those second and third chances on the man advantage can mean goals.
Phil Kessel shows frustration on the bench from hockey

The next two points go hand in hand.

Many times it seems certain players like to put on the show. The "fancy pants dance" as I call it. It can be not just entertaining but effective. It catches a defender looking and moves can be made to score. Other times, it can cause a player get caught up in their own feet or they can over stick handle and it causes a turnover. The latter has been the case as of late. The focus Could be shifting back to simple hockey. Playing the right way which is how they became defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first place.

Make the play that is there instead of trying to force it or deflect to a "star player" so that they can carry the team. If it means a player being a little selfish and taking the puck in all on their lonesome, then do it if the opportunity is there. If it means swallowing  pride and passing the puck off for a better shot at a goal, so be it. As much as individual stats are important, so is teamwork with your line mates.

Don't force it, because that is how things usually end up breaking apart.

Breaking apart, at times, can be helpful. There is a phrase that goes; "Don't get too attached to hockey players because they'll get traded to or signed by another team and you'll die!".

With that in mind, and as much as the fans loved the fact that the Penguins are essentially playing with the same roster that won them the Cup, it's time to think about breaking up the band. With the points that need improved upon, plus more (such as defense), perhaps some new personnel is what is needed to fit the puzzle back together for the back end of the season. I am not going to speculate who should or could come in, who could/ should go, what the cap negates and allows and all those little details that give one a blazing migraine. I have faith in General Manager Jim Rutherford to make the right decisions as he did last season and faith in the coaching staff to right the ship before things get to out of hand.

The Penguins have faced rough patches before and come out on top. It happens to every team, but when that team has a chance for a repeat Cup then everything seems to matter more. They are a resilient and talented bunch and will get things back on the right track. Even if it means a swift kick in the pants (or three).  The Penguins head to Detroit January 14 to finish out this road trip before returning home to face the Capitals (again) on January 16. They are then heading back on the road to face Montreal and Carolina, January 18 and 20.


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About Medina Menozzi

I write about the Penguins and anything associated with them. I work too much. I'm obsessed with Nutella. I could live off pizza and cereal. Kat Stratford is my spirit animal.
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