By John Toperzer
Prior to Saturday’s 2-1 win over a Calgary team which hadn’t scored a goal on home ice in 196 minutes, the Penguins had allowed an average of 3.27 goals per game in their last 11 contests, well above a 2.41 season average. Plenty of folks blame Malkin and Kris Letang for poor defense – myself included, but the team’s defensive woes pre-date both players.
The Penguins are never going to be the NHL’s strongest defensive squad. They don’t have to be, not with an offense including Sidney Crosby and Malkin. What they do need to possess – and they haven’t had for years – is a mentality they can shut opposing offenses down late in games when they already have a lead.
Hence Rob Scuderi’s “Harlem Globetrotter’s” reference made after the Pens blew a third-period lead to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.
“If you’re going to try and play hockey like the Harlem Globetrotters, you’re going to get burned,” Scuderi told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We continue to make the same mistakes, go for the same highlight reel plays.
“That might look good on the highlight reels every now and then, but it’s not a formula for winning.”
Scuderi didn’t limit the Penguins’ problems to the third period. He didn’t blame a particular player.
“It was the whole team the entire game,” Scuderi said. “We did a good job of trying to keep it together. Our goalie (Jeff Zatkoff) made some big saves. But you can’t ask that much of a goalie and a defense — a team defense — for 60 minutes. It’s not going to pay off.”
Pittsburgh played its best defensive hockey when many of the top blueliners and stars were injured.
The scenario leads one to wonder whether coach Dan Bylsma has lost his influence among established players. It’s almost as if rookies do what Bylsma asks of them while guys like Malkin – who has taken penalties twice during power plays the last two games — tune his message out.
The Penguins are in danger of sliding down a slippery slope we’ve seen before. Put up strong defensive numbers the first half of the season and then move back to a run-and-gun mentality closer to the playoffs, trading random chances even with the lead.
Currently, Pittsburgh holds a 1.10 5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio, where 1.00 means a team and its opponent score at the same rate even strength.
The Pens’ 1.10 mark is 10th best in the NHL. Click here.
That’s not a particularly strong number. With a top-rated power play, the team doesn’t need to feature the strongest 5-on-5 play in the league. But, if the power play goes into the inevitable slump, winning won’t come so easily.
Sidney Crosby’s goals scored by period in 2013-14: 4 goals in the first period, 7 in the second, 12 in the third and one in overtime.
Thanks to three seasons at the end of Crosby’s current contract at $3 million per year, the star centerman’s $8.7 million cap hit is lower than Malkin’s $9.5 million cap hit.
That said, Crosby will make nearly $5 million more than Malkin in 2013-14, with a $12 million salary as compared to Malkin’s $7.5 million salary.
Not only that, but Crosby will also make a total of $67.8 million to Malkin’s $55 million in actual salary through 2018-19.
That’s what I call a high hockey IQ.
Click here to see Crosby’s actual salary versus his cap hit, courtesy of Cap Geek.
Word comes Monday that Brian Gibbons is out a week and Beau Bennett is still a month away from returning to action.
Click here for my story on trade possibilities.
I’m predicting a more lively trading atmosphere in 2013-14 than in the recent past. There are already 10 teams eight points or more out behind the eighth place teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.