There are three main factors that have contributed to the Penguins dropping five of their last six.
1.) The most obvious (and blown out of proportion point) is Marc-Andre Fleury. The Stanley Cup winning goal-tender has not returned to his 2008 form. The objective numbers are that the Penguins are scoring 2.6 goals per game in front of Fleury and 2.7 goals per game in front of Brent Johnson. Also consider that Pittsburgh has allowed 30+ shots in only one of Fleury’s outings but in four of Johnson’s. For all the Penguins fans calling for Fleury’s head though, keep in mind. He is second in the league in losses–behind future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur. Others leading the league in losses are Olympians Miikka Kiprusoff and Ryan Miller.
It is true that Fleury is not playing his best hockey right now. However, Many NHL goalies are simply incapable of playing at Fleury’s top level. He quite simply cannot play his best every night. A very high standard has been set for him as a Stanley Cup winning goalie and #1 overall draft pick. Flower has improved each of the last two games and has made monumental third period saves in each of his last two games. It is well documented that Fleury is a goalie who rises to the occasion. If he were faltering in high-pressure situations, then there might be reason for concern. As it is, the 25-year-old has played better in late-game situations. His early mistakes have cost him–and luckily for Penguins fans, those mistakes are fixable.
2.) Evgeni Malkin. Geno now has one point in his last five games and only three goals on the season. Pascal Dupuis and Mark Letestu both have more goals than Malkin this year and #71 is tied with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. He has played center and wing and been featured with almost every offensive player. Many Penguin’s fans are quick to blame Fleury for Pittsburgh’s early season troubles but fail to notice that this team goes as Malkin goes. Sidney Crosby is going to get his points, but if nobody steps up behind him the Penguins will not succeed. Some would like the other player getting paid $8.7 million to be that guy who steps up.
Consider that Malkin is only on pace for 19 goals this year. That total would not even be good enough to crack the top 110 goal-scorers of last season. The Russian Olympian deserves more heat than anyone on this team because his problems are the same ones that have plagued him since he entered the league. The biggest flaw in Malkin’s game is that he plays a dumb brand of hockey. If he were to stop trying to beat players one-on-one, pick up his man defensively, and put any effort into his game, it would result in a dramatic statistical swing. How many times does he lethargically skate to a puck and then proceed to get picked from behind or lose it trying to beat the defender one-on-one? The effort is not there from Malkin, and it is showing in the win column.
I believe many of these problems come from his extended shifts. If he gets off the ice quicker, he has more energy to retrieve the puck and skate with his defensive assignment. He needs to cut down on his shift length and learn to pass the puck (or dump it) around his defender.
3.) Pittsburgh is once again getting little production from secondary players. Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Max Talbot, Mike Rupp, Mike Comrie, and Tyler Kennedy have only combine for 28 points in a 82 total games between them. Factor in that Crosby is the only player in the NHL’s top 15 scorers to not have a fellow offensive player hit double digits points, and the captains’ crew looks even worse. Also, a rookie should never have to be counted on to be a top scorer, but Letestu has not recorded a point in seven games.
Many of these shortcomings are due to the 24th ranked powerplay which the Penguins feature. If Friday night’s game is any indicator that the man-advantage may actually prove to be an advantage, then look for these number to go up.
Before you panic though Penguin fans. Notice that these problems are all fixable. Pittsburgh is just getting healthy and they are still one of the most talented teams in the NHL.