An atrocity exhibition: Penguins struggle in November

The Pittsburgh Penguins were unable to come up with any points for a second straight game on Saturday, as they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers by four goals to two. After a strong start that featured another Sidney Crosby goal, as well as Riley Sheahan’s second goal in three games, the Pens could not score in the third period, and the Flyers took home a decisive victory.

It was the third time since the start of November that the Pens have lost multiple games in a row. Since their last win, only two Penguins, Crosby and Sheahan, were able to put the puck into the back of the net. Last night seemed to be the same old problems, where the Pens continued to give up odd man breakaways, and the Flyers took advantage. It seems fair to say that if the Penguins, currently in sixth place in the metropolitan division, can’t flip the switch soon, then a few big names on the roster are going to find themselves on the trading block.

This month of November was atrocious for the Penguins. They’ve lost 10 games out of 14, and look generally disinterested in playing successfully. Three of those losses have been in overtime or a shootout, so they have managed to grab a few points along the way, even though it hasn’t been enough to change their bleak outlook. A lot of these games were lost in the third period, and they ended up as multiple goal losses on an empty netter by the other team. Some of this might be attributed to the Pens losing goaltender Matt Murray to injury and replacing him with two backups, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry. Put a strong goaltender in net, and the Pens might take more of those to overtime and then to victory. November was a bad month, but with some roster shuffling, it could be an anomaly.

Jim Rutherford should be looking to trade away some of the Pens’ considerable forward depth to give the team any semblance of a defense, or perhaps a proven, veteran goaltender who can mentor Matt Murray, Casey DeSmith, and Tristan Jarry. Beyond Kris Letang, who also looked horrible last Saturday against the Flyers. Nobody on the Penguins’ defensive line has been able to do much of anything. I don’t think that we’re seeing the end of the Crosby and Malkin era, but the Pens need to build up their defense, or they will surely end up out of playoff contention. Since the beginning of the season there’s been a complete disregard for team defense, with the forwards lazily skating back for defensive help, as well as a lackluster forward attack after dumping the puck.

There are glimmers of hope, however. In the game against the Winnipeg Jets just last week, the Pens looked like a different team. They played hard on the boards and won loose puck battles. I’m not a fan of calling it a matter of effort, but it does really seem like the team is uninterested in playing more often than not. I still trust Mike Sullivan as head coach, but don’t be surprised if there’s a coaching change soon in the future. The Penguins are a team with a limited window for success, and while firing a head coach who has won two Stanley Cups in the last three years may not inspire success in future coaches, it might soon be the only move left to make to spark something in the team.