In the past week the Pittsburgh Penguins have scored eight goals in three games and finished 2-1. The system changes by new head coach Mike Sullivan have produced a more entertaining product, but some of the same woes still beset the team.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have the same record as the Arizona Coyotes thirty five games into the 2015-16 NHL season. 17-15-3. Let that sink in for a minute.
Despite the gains being shown in possession and the obvious increase in buy-in from the team, the results are still not coming in the Mike Sullivan era. The product looks better on-ice, and the numbers tell us that several of the Pens key players will not continue shooting at abysmally low rates forever…
…but the team has reached the midway point of the season and it’s starting to turn from “bad start” to gut check time.
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Will the Pittsburgh Penguins be able to escape the funk and make the playoffs? They sit six points out of a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and five points out of a wild card berth.
And to add insult to injury, they are now 17 points back of the Metropolitan leading Washington Capitals.
Here’s where the Pens slot in the power rankings around the NHL media:
NHL.com — this week: unranked | last week: unranked
"They defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Monday to stave off talk of a slump, if only for the holiday break. The Penguins, who hope to get center Sidney Crosby back after Christmas, are five points out of a playoff spot. They play 16 games before the All-Star break, including nine against teams currently in a playoff position."
ESPN.com — this week: 26th | last week: 30th
"Sidney Crosby returned from a lower-body injury Saturday and provided a two-point game to help the Penguins to a 3-1 win over the Wild. It was Pittsburgh’s second consecutive win. The captain has one goal and four assists for five points in his last three games. However, the Penguins were held scoreless during Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Jets."
NESN — this week: 17th | last week: 17th
"The Penguins have won just two of their last nine games, and their lone win under new head coach Mike Sullivan was against the league’s worst team (Columbus)."
The Hockey News — this week: 23rd | last week: 25th
CSN — this week: 28th | last week: 30th
"Mike Sullivan earned his first two wins as head coach of the Penguins as Pittsburgh won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 17-19. Letang’s health appears to still be an issue, but at least Sidney Crosby is back."
Fox Sports — this week: 24th | last week: 25th
"If you change your coach and you continue to lose, whose fault does it become? Is it the new coach’s? Is it the players’? Is it the general manager’s? Who knows, but I’m sure the Penguins would really like to find out the answer."
It looks like the faith in the Pittsburgh Penguins is at an all time low in more places than just Pittsburgh.
There are still a few reasons to hope, however.
The Pens dynamic offense has begun to apply good pressure to opposition teams, as we can see from this Corsi For chart that shows us the difference between the Johnston regime and the Sullivan regime.
Here we can see the highs of the Pens from 2009 to 2012, and then the subsequent regression in 2012 and 2013. We can also see the Penguins performing decently last season under Mike Johnston, only to crater this season and then rise from the ashes like a phoenix once Mike Sullivan was placed behind the bench.
The question is not if, but when. However, when those numbers revert closer to the norm, will it be enough to cover up the issues on the back end for the Penguins?