Pittsburgh Penguins: Three Big Takeaways to Slow Start

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 05: Goalie Antti Niemi
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 05: Goalie Antti Niemi /

The Pittsburgh Penguins officially began the quest for a Stanley Cup Three-peat this week.

Even after just a couple games, we learned a few key points from the Pittsburgh Penguins slow start.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins /

Pittsburgh Penguins

Winning is Hard

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have written or read this, but yes, winning games in the NHL is hard. While that may sound obvious, the more subtle point here is that even the best teams need play near the top of their game to win regularly. The first takeaway from the start of this season? The Penguins are still a work in progress.

Even from the eye test, it is easy to see that the new pieces (Reaves, McKee, Hunwick, and even Niemi) have not settled in to the Penguins system yet. This is not to say the Pens look bad, they just don’t look ready for the Playoffs. Two games into the season, a slow start is not a bad thing. It exposes the new players weaknesses and gives coaches and staff something to focus on.

Defense is Hard

The glaring weakness for the Pens out of the gate is defense. Again, it’s not that they are bad, just not great. To be fair, they are playing some very good teams to start this season, so it might be reasonable to expect a slow start. However, it is clear that the new pieces on D (and even Letang due to absence) are still working out the kinks.

The Penguins defensive system is geared toward puck retrieval and movement (as opposed to say boxing out and knocking out teeth). That requires D-men to think fast, and make smart controlled plays with the puck. So far, there have been a plethora of bad outlet passes, turnovers, and men out of position. Given the speed and complexity of the Pens’ system, some of that is unavoidable during the learning curve. Over time, these guys will settle in – that will go a long way to helping smooth out the rough edges in the Penguins puck-possession game.

Goaltending is Hard

Well, with such an enormous sample size (1/2 of one period) it’s hard to ignore the play of newly acquired backup goaltender Anttti Niemi. I’m not really going to pick on him here – he is a quality goalie who had a nightmare start to the season. And point in fact, the Pens didn’t fare much better with Murray in the net. Make no mistake, that 10-1 blowout loss to the Blackhawks was a team effort. There was a major issue on display in Niemi’s game though, and one he has to correct if he is to stay on as the Pens backup. His rebound control was, well, non-existent. I have written before how critical rebound control is for the Pens. The entire defensive system relies on it, which is why the Pens play so well in front of Matt Murray. Well most of the time.

Next: Eight Players to Watch in the Metropolitan Division

So there it is – rough start to a long season, a few things to work on, but nothing to worry about yet. As coach Mike Sullivan is fond of saying after losses, the Pens are not yet “playing the game the right way.”

But don’t worry, there are lots of games left.