The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped a crucial game to the Ottawa Senators in overtime last night. The final score was 4-3, which might not seem bad at first. However, upon closer inspection the Penguins entered the 3rd period with a 3-1 lead over the Senators.
Once again, Ottawa came from behind, as they’ve done all season, and took down ta Penguins team that desperately needed the win.
Coming into the matchup the playoff scenarios looked like this:
- Pittsburgh wins at Ottawa and clinched a Wild Card birth.
- Pittsburgh loses (regulation/overtime) and is forced to win their last two games.
Unfortunately it’s the second option that now falls on the Pens. What might be most concerning about this loss is that they cannot put teams away when they have a lead. Countless leads have been blown by the Pens this season and every time the explanation is the same: they did not finish properly.
If they are losing games and losing third period leads, the issue is clearly finishing games. In this specific case the Penguins blew a three-goal lead. This specific lead is considered by top NHL reporters, scouts and management as the worst lead in hockey. The team gets comfortable and begins to play defensively, except they did not get that three goal lead by playing defensive. They obtained it by pushing the tempo every shift.
You can point out major injuries to Christian Ehrhoff, Kris Letang and as of last night, Derrick Pouliot. However, injuries should not and are not an excuse for a club consistently failing to finish games. That falls on the players themselves and their coach, neither of which have not been effective for Pittsburgh this season.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi had this to say about the Penguins recent play in an interview with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Josh Yohe.
I think we’ve been a fragile group for the last couple of weeks. This is depressing right now, but now it’s time to let it go. We still control our destiny.
Fellow defender Paul Martin also spoke with Yohe and had this to say about their monumental choke.
I don’t have any answers, Flower was so great tonight and we just didn’t help him out
While Pittsbrugh might control their own destiny, does it really matter? Barring a monumental turnaround, the Penguins are destined to either miss the playoffs (and give Edmonton another chance at the #1 pick) or lose in the first round.
From top to bottom, this team is undisciplined, mentally fragile and top heavy. Throughout many games you see captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin flying on the ice, but there is no one to help them out. After watching for a while, it seems that the Pens aren’t playing team oriented hockey, but it’s not because their stars like playing that way. It comes down to their top players trying to step up and lead the team without any help, so it looks like they’re not playing a team-centric game.
If it was not for the stellar play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh would have been eliminated from playoff contention a month ago. Their special teams performance has sagged as their power play has been operating at 16.7 percent and the penalty kill at 82.5 percent.
How do you fix this team? The sad truth is that there is no solution on the roster or in the organization. Head coach Mike Johnston might be gone after this season and rumors are flying that Crosby or Malkin might request a trade. And why shouldn’t they?
The Penguins are a team in salary cap hell and endure the exact same problems year after year. It’s unfair for any one player, regardless of how talented they are, to waste years in the prime of their career on a team that seems to be stuck in the same cycle. It’s been so bad that Forbes NHL reporter Mike Colligan wrote that owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle could potentially sell the team.
Unless there is a massive turnaround, it’s going to be another long and bumpy offseason in Pittsburgh.