Despite the Pittsburgh Penguins’ prolific, high-scoring offense, their 2011-12 season ended in the opening round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs. Despite 26 goals in six games, 4.3 goals per game, an extraordinary offensive performance, they found themselves on their couches for the second round of the playoffs. Despite opening the series with a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period in Game 1, the Penguins collapsed by allowing four consecutive goals. These are the results of a poor defensive unit. The Penguins allowed 30 goals in their 6-game series against the Flyers. The Pittsburgh D was no match for the Flyers’ potent offense. The Pittsburgh penalty killing unit was dominated by the Philadelphia power play. Pittsburgh defensemen lost sight of the basic fundamentals of defensive hockey. They were laid back and passive.
Supposedly, the Penguins defensive scheme was exposed a couple weeks before the playoffs, a night where they loss to the Ottawa Senators, 8-4, one of ugliest games of the season. This is nothing but an excuse to me. The Penguins were beaten by a couple stretch passes (one that was not even a good goal since it should have been off-sides); however, the fall of the team, specifically the defense, was their inability to kill penalties. The Penguins need to add more talent to their defensive pairings. They traded away Zybanek Michalek at the 2012 NHL Draft. Michalek struggled mightily in the playoffs versus the Flyers. On the current roster are Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, and Matt Niskanen – not exactly a dominant crew of NHL defensemen.
Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff are aware they do not have a lot of defensive talent behind Letang and Orpik, but they are not panicking. They will look to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for one of their defensive youngsters to step up and join their NHL team. The Baby Penguins have a myriad of young and upcoming Penguins in the system. Simon Despres has NHL experience and is improving quickly. He will soon be called up to the big ranks. Brian Dumoulin is in his first year with Pittsburgh/WBS after being acquired by the team in the Jordan Staal trade. Joe Morrow, a Penguins’ draftee, is growing as a prospect even quicker than the Penguins have hoped. He excelled in last season’s exhibition games and is due for his stint in the NHL. Brian Strait is also a member of the Baby Penguins. Strait has NHL experience, like Despres, and could contribute if the Penguins need him. Certainly, Despres and Morrow are the gems in the Penguins’ AHL affiliate system. At least one of the two young defensive gems will be called up at some point in the season, and it will definitely add a spark to the team’s defense. Bylsma and his staff are counting on Morrow and/or Despres. Without an emergence from one of them, the Penguins will have their 2012-13 season end the same way it did a year ago.
LOCKOUT UPDATE: The NHL announced Friday, October 26, that all November games have been cancelled. The two sides have not negotiated intensively since they cancelled all October games a week ago.