Pittsburgh Penguins Weekly Round-Up: Playoff Concerns, Ehrhoff, And More


Well, here we are. We’ve reached the home stretch of the NHL regular season and teams are now priming themselves for playoff contention while others are preparing themselves for the NHL entry draft. The trade deadline is over, rosters are set, and things are about to get real. Considering the current state of your Pittsburgh Penguins, how confident are you that they’re built for a long playoff run?

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As I write this article, the Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit in the third spot within the Metropolitan Division, leading the fourth place Washington Capitals by only one point. They are trailing the New York Rangers in the second spot by four points, and the Rangers are 7-1-2 in their last ten. Also, consider that the Rangers are playing that well without the services of Henrik Lundqvist, who is still out after taking a shot to the neck area a few weeks ago. Basically, what I’m getting at is that the Penguins are going to need consistency and a high level of play just to hold onto third place and not drop into a wild card spot.

As I covered here, we saw a few interesting moves by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline, with the Ben Lovejoy for Simon Despres swap being the most controversial among fans. Recent reports from Dejan Kovacevic of dkonpittsburghsports.com confirm my theory that there was more to that trade than simply being a player-for-player swap. Simon Despres has now been shunned by two administrations in Pittsburgh. Hopefully a change of scenery will improve his off-ice attitude and work ethic. We’ll get a chance to see him in his new colors tonight in Anaheim.

The Penguins suited up against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday in their first game with new additions Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole. However, suiting up is pretty much all they did as they looked lethargic and were badly outplayed by a struggling Avalanche team. It’s tough to analyze Lovejoy and Cole but from the small sample size we’ve seen but I believe they will both pleasantly surprise this fan base with their ability to play physical when needed. Ian Cole also jumped to the defense of his comrades a few times during post-whistle scrums, and has shown the ability to drop the mits if needed in the past when playing for the St. Louis Blues.

The Avalanche game was a testament to one of the biggest concerns I have about this team going into the post season. They simply aren’t a good team when playing from behind. When their opponent gets out to a quick start, the 2015 Pittsburgh Penguins cannot recover momentum like the 2009 roster could, which contributed to a few series-turning events during their Stanley Cup Run. Consider the following numbers (via stats.hockeyanalysis.com) when the team is trailing and at 5v5.

Goals For Per 60-Minutes – 2.51 (Ranks 14th)

Goals Against Per 60-Minutes – 2.51 (Ranks 24th)

Shots For Per 60-Minutes – 31.2 (Ranks 17th)

Shots Against Per 60-Minutes – 27 (Ranks 18th)

What does this mean? The Pittsburgh Penguins are digging holes that they aren’t able to climb out of.   They aren’t generating enough offense when trailing and they’re giving up far too many goals in those situations.  What’s more alarming is how bad that number drops when trailing by two or more, in which case they are averaging 1.81 goals-for per 60, which ranks 25th in the NHL and just above the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Of course, the Penguins don’t trail all that often. They are only 4th in the league when looking at 5v5 TOI while trailing. But the playoffs are always tight, with more close games and tight checking defenses. This is something that Mike Johnston and staff will need to take a look at if they plan to be successful down the stretch.

I understand that we’re in a tight race to hold position in the division as I mentioned above, but do the right thing with Ehrhoff and don’t rush him back.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Christian Ehrhoff again on Wednesday due to concussion symptoms. This is after he returned to practice, then played against Washington on February 25. I’m starting to get concerned with how the medical staff is handling his concussion situation, as we all know the seriousness of this type of injury after Sidney Crosby’s battles to return to the lineup. Not to mention other big names that have been sidelined by concussions like Chris Pronger. I don’t like the team’s chances without a healthy Ehrhoff. He isn’t necessarily an impact player but he provides power play depth on defense. Also, considering that someone will likely get hurt if the Pittsburgh Penguins have a long run, you need these guys healthy. I understand that we’re in a tight race to hold position in the division as I mentioned above, but do the right thing with Ehrhoff and don’t rush him back.

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The next two nights will be a great test for this team. If you dismiss the Colorado game, the Penguins have been playing impressive hockey and rattled off four straight wins to formidable opponents. They did so in convincing fashion and looked poised to right the ship heading into March and the final two months of the season. Anaheim is riding a four-game winning streak of their own as they continue their dominance over the Pacific division, and currently maintains the top spot in the NHL with 91 points. The San Jose sharks welcome the Penguins tomorrow night desperate for points as they battle for a Western Conference playoff spot.

Remember to visit us here for your game-day previews and recaps of both contests. And of course, follow me on twitter at @Michael29Angelo for more hockey talk. Thanks for reading.

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