March 18, 2015
by Jason Mackey
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NEWARK, N.J. – I thought Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center might be the type of game where the getting-chances argument no longer holds water.
Coach Mike Johnston pegged much of his team’s inability to score on its play around the Devils’ net. OK. I can’t argue.
But my big question is why, on a team with so many gifted offensive players, are we seeing eight shutouts, five since the all-star break?
There’s no reasonable explanation here, other than the players just aren’t that good. And I really don’t think that’s the case; the horses aren’t producing. It’s strange. Then again, I supposed Mike Trout and Tom Brady hit the skids now and again.
Here was Sidney Crosby when asked whether it was frustrating to have scored one goal in three games as a team.
“That’s not what you want to run into,” Crosby said. “That being said, the games are tight. You have to find ways to produce. When you get your chances, you have to bury them. Usually when you get 35 shots, you have a pretty good chance of at least getting one. Wasn’t the case tonight.”
Again, as I detailed in my gamer, Johnston was pretty overtly critical of his team’s effort when it came to such things as battle or compete – buzzwords that will get players’ attention.
“You have to continue to reinforce it,” Johnston said. “We have to go back and we have to show a lot of the goals we’ve scored in the five-foot area. In order to score at this level, if that’s where they come from, then you’ve got to be hard, you’ve got be strong, you’ve got to be there screening. But it wasn’t just screening for me tonight. It was the battle around those areas.”
I only used part of this Paul Martin quote for my game story, but all of it is pretty good. Some context: Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin are out. The Penguins need people to step up and do things – score goals, go to the net, whatever.
That, obviously, didn’t happen Tuesday.
“We just haven’t been able to finish,” Martin said. “I think that’s the toughest part. When you have some key guys out of the lineup, you have to make sure you’re still making plays into the net. It’s up to us to finish, to execute.”
At least some responsibility will inevitably fall on a guy like Chris Kunitz, who has one goal in 21 games. That’s not top-line production, but who else would you put on Crosby’s wing?
Steve Downie? Blake Comeau? Daniel Winnik? Maybe the first, the second saps your second line and has not displayed a great deal of chemistry with Crosby, and the third is an unknown.
The easier solution is for Kunitz to finish. The Penguins, and Kunitz, know this – or at least you would think.
But, hey, the Islanders lost again Tuesday. They’re struggling. Sure, the Penguins have missed a chance to gain ground, but I’m not sure the Rangers are catchable at this point.
There are a dozen games left, two against playoff teams. The Penguins have plenty of time to figure this out. Or at least an opportunity.
“Schneider did suck some in and keep them tight, but there were other pucks that were there,” Johnston said. “We just have to battle. We have to have a heavy stick. We have to compete in those areas.
“A lot of our wingers are good around those areas, but instead of waiting for that puck to come to you in a softer area, you’ve got to get to the harder areas. You’ll hear everybody talk about that now with the goal-scoring the way it is.”
Yeah, especially if said goal-scoring never materializes.
Club practices Wednesday at Prudential Center at 11 a.m. Will have updates, then Josh Yohe has the rest of the trip.
Be GRATEFUL to each other,