Pittsburgh Penguins: Defensive fixes should lead to win

With a pair of losses since Jan. 31, the Pittsburgh Penguins will need to clamp down defensively against the New York Islanders on Thursday night to get back on track

To say the Penguins have issues this season would be an understatement, to say the least. The power play has been ineffective, the stars have been inconsistent, the team defense has been lazy and the goaltending has been dreadful.

The most pressing matter has got to be getting Tristan Jarry back to the levels he played at last season. The defense has been a mess all season, with time missed for basically everyone in the Penguins’ preseason top six, but guys like Kris Letang and Mike Matheson have to be better when they’re in the lineup.

Letang’s always been a wild card, but you could count on his positives to outweigh the negatives. This season, it seems like Letang has made a game-breaking error every game. He’s the elder statesman of this defensive corps, and as such, he has got to be the leader—vocally and in his play.

It’s getting to that point in Letang’s career, he’s 33 turning 34 in April, that we’ve got to wonder if this is Letang now. That’s a scary thought.

The Penguins’ defensive corps should be more of a strength than a weakness once everyone returns to the lineup, especially with the emergence of rookie Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Matheson will need to stay in the lineup and prove he’s still the player the Florida Panthers felt comfortable enough to give an… eight year deal. Yikes.

Jarry hasn’t had much help this season, but he has to return to levels near his All-Star stretch last season. A .857 save percentage and 3.95 goals allowed per game cannot and will not cut it. Jarry has got to be able to make those big, game-changing saves for the Pens, and he hasn’t been able to do it yet this season. Consistency will be key for Jarry, who the Pens have put all their faith into.

Jarry playing well and the Penguins’ defense returning should go hand-in-hand, and if doesn’t, it’s going to be a long season.

The Penguins have played 11 games this season, but they haven’t played much hockey over the past two weeks. That time off has allowed forward Zach Aston-Reese to be activated off the injured reserve, but defenseman Marcus Pettersson and forward Jared McCann remain out as the injury bug continues to stick around.

With ZAR back in the lineup, he figures to slot back onto last season’s highly effective Brandon Tanev-Teddy Blueger-ZAR line.

With McCann replaced in the lineup by ZAR, and Pettersson still out, the rest of the Penguins lineup figures to remain unchanged. Goaltender Casey DeSmith will receive the nod in goal, which, is confusing for Jarry’s confidence going forward.

The Penguins lost to the Islanders the last time out, 4-3, in a game where the Pens’ forwards honestly played better than the Isles’ forwards, but with shoddy defending and subpar goaltending, the Isles picked up the win.

With Pettersson nearing a return, the Penguins are slowly getting healthier. The ragtag defensive crew rallying around DeSmith tonight would be a good start to racking up some wins in the meantime.

Puck drop for tonight’s contest is scheduled for 7:00 p.m., and AT&T SportsNet will have the local coverage and ESPN+ will provide coverage for a fee.