Penguins Trending in the Wrong Direction

By Patrick Hoffman

Coming off two straight Stanley Cup winning seasons, it was easy for fans to expect the Pittsburgh Penguins to come out of the gate slow to start the season.

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Last year, and for the second straight seasons, the Penguins played eight rounds of playoff hockey, some of them even going the distance. Players gave all their blood, sweat, and tears to win it all so it would be completely understandable for the team to take a bit to find their legs this season.

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Unfortunately, the Penguins struggles to start this season have been extremely glaring. While the Penguins have a winning record of 17-15-3 as of this writing (December 19, 2017), the team is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff spot.

Yes, it is still early on in the season, but with the Metropolitan Division being as competitive as it is, there is no guarantee that the Penguins will be in the playoffs come April. Sure, they have the talent to get in, but right now, their struggles are real and a bit worrisome for the team and its fans.

For starters, the team's goaltending has been far too inconsistent. While two-time Cup winner and starting netminder Matt Murray missed some time with an injury, he has played well below expectations when he's been between the pipes this season. In 24 games, the 23-year-old is 12-9-0-1 with a 2.88 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and 1 shutout.

Those numbers, though not exactly terrible, are not the kind of numbers that the team and its fans are used to seeing from Murray. His current back-up, Tristan Jarry has been okay with a 5-2-0-2 record to go along with a 2.49 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and 1 shutout. With that said, this team needs Murray to be the better and more consistent netminder from here on out if they want to guarantee themselves in the postseason dance.

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Another area the team is struggling is on the defensive side of the puck. As of this writing (December 19, 2017), the team is 28th in the league in goals allowed with 111 in 35 games, good for an average of 3.17 goals against per game (23rd in the league). With these kind of defensive numbers, it is easy to see why Murray has struggled this season so if they want to get back on the winning track, they need to clean up this part of their game.

While being in the middle of the pack offensively (15th in the league) in terms of putting the puck in the net, this Penguins hockey team needs to make sure they continue to do that in order to support their defense and goaltenders. Players like Phil Kessel (15 goals), Sidney Crosby (14 goals), Jake Guentzel (12 goals), Evgeni Malkin (11 goals), and Patric Hornqvist (11 goals) all need to continue to produce and hope that others follow suit.

There is still a lot of hockey left to be played and a lot of time to put themselves in a better position in the Eastern Conference. With that said, if they don't get things cleaned up and back on track soon, they could be in trouble come April.

Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.caKukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

For comments and hip checks, feel free to contact Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com or on Twitter at @pathoffman35.