Pittsburgh Penguins Still Can’t Beat The Metropolitan Division


Last night the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in tragic fashion to the visiting Washington Capitals. Their 3-1 loss last night brings their season record versus the Capitals to 0-3 and in those games they have scored a total of 1 goal, while allowing 10 goals. This would not be that big of an issue, often times a single team will consistently dominate another. However, it is not just against the Capitals that the Pittsburgh Penguins struggle. Their overall record stands at 32-16-9 which places them third in the newly formed Metropolitan division. 

More from Penguins News

The issues lies when you look beyond their overall record, inside their own division the Pittsburgh Penguins are 7-10-4. What makes matters worse is that against the top teams in the Metro (Rangers, Islanders and Capitals) the Pittsburgh Penguins are a mere 2-7-2. This presents a serious problem come playoff time due to the current playoff structure. Regardless of their finishing position in the division the Pittsburgh Penguins will have to play one, if not two of their rivals before the Eastern Conference final.

Over halfway through the regular season, it is officially time to hit the panic button. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been known to be a dominant regular season team that annually falters in the playoffs, with the current format that will be the story again this year.

Even if they make the Conference Semi-Final, do you remember last season? After taking a 3 to 1 game lead over the Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins choked. The common theme is that the Pittsburgh Penguins for some odd reason cannot excel inside their own division.

Feb 3, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma (right) reacts to a play against the Ottawa Senators during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the explanation was that the division rivals studied and discovered a way to shut down former head coach Dan Bylsma‘s system. This year that argument is completely invalid as new head coach Mike Johnston’s system is still new to the NHL and it works beautifully against almost every other team. For some context, the Pittsburgh Penguins record against the (perceived) better Western Conference is 11-4-2.

So why do the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to struggle against the Metropolitan division? They have proven to be one of the top teams in the league when not playing the Rangers, Capitals and Islanders. My conclusion is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are not mentally strong enough to take down their rivals (as of now). The burden to fix this problem now lays on the leaders of the team, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. As the core pieces of this annual offensive juggernaut, it is their job to inspire mental confidence in the rest of the team through their play, their work ethic and demeanor on the ice. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins have gobs of star power on the roster but it is time for them to take the next step and assist coach Mike Johnston. There is only so much a coach can do when working with professional athletes. At some point, the burden lies on the players on the team and usually the star players are the ones to answer the call. In addition to inspiring the team, players like Malkin, Kunitz, Letang and Crosby have to improve their own mental toughness.

When the game is not going the Pittsburgh Penguins way regardless of whether it is poor officiating, lack of scoring or opposing physical play, these stars all show their frustration. Their conduct on the ice when frustrated is that of a fourth line grinder. Last night Alex Ovechkin was playing dirty and after one faceoff, Kunitz ignored the puck, goes after Ovechkin and tries to start a fight. That type of behavior is a big reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins are being held back, a lack of mental toughness can be a killer in the playoffs.

The time is now Pittsburgh Penguins, the stars of the team must help the team in non-quantifiable, non-visible ways if the Pens want another Stanley Cup.