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Penguins Perspectives: A 'start-ling' problem

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Monday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Often times in sports an old cliché gets used – "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

While that rings true for a full season, if you win the last game of the last series, you're skating around an NHL arena with a silver chalice above your head.

However, on a smaller scale, a slow start can lead to a quick exit.

Now, I have no doubts that these Penguins will figure it out, take a look at what they did to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions in just the second game of the season, but a disturbing trend has emerged as the team made its way west.

The Penguins are simply not starting games on time.

It was evident against Los Angeles, the Penguins started well enough against Edmonton but then took a nap in the second period, came out of the gate slow against Columbus, and the same thing in Calgary.

The Penguins never got going in Vancouver against a team that at the time started 0-5-2, only had won its first game the night before and was close to sliding into "disaster territory."

I often tell people to observe the season in rolling five-game segments. One game can be an anomaly while a stretch of five games can indicate trends, and habits, and give you a clearer picture of what a team is capable of.

Heading to Western Canada is no small task.

You're spanning the entire continent, you switch between time zones, and your start times make little sense due to television obligations. The Penguins-Oilers game began last week at 8 p.m. Pittsburgh time but that was a 6 p.m. face-off in Edmonton.

However, to cross Pittsburgh sports, that doesn't mean the Penguins should seek comfort.

While they may not be the Penguins of the mid-2010s anymore, a roster with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang will always be a target.

They will always be a measuring stick.

When sitting down to decide what to write for this week's Penguins Perspectives, I was leaning toward writing about the importance of stacking points early in the season because the dog days of winter can be a slog for a professional hockey team. You know the games, mid-January/early February, a team that's not contending for the playoffs comes to town on a Wednesday, and it's just hard to get yourself any type of excited for it. Those are games you can live with losing, especially if you've stacked points early.

I have no doubts a team with this much experience, success, and pedigree will get it together, it's not the most encouraging thing to see them taking periods off, especially against teams that they could see in a possible Stanley Cup Final.

Yes, the Oilers are top-heavy and the Flames are basically a brand-new team after their summer overhaul, but they are still very, very good.

Add in that teams like Columbus, Seattle, and Montreal will love to play the role of spoiler this year for any contender that crosses their paths, coasting through the opening 20 should not be an option for this team.

Don't just take my word for it, take Mike Sullivan's.

"Some periods, I think we look really good, and then other periods, it's a struggle. I think we've got to try to find a way to do a better job at bringing just a little bit more consistency."

Let's run it back, Sully.

"I just don't think we're putting a 60-minute effort together, and it's hard to win in this league when you don't. It's our job to figure out how to fix it. We need everyone to take ownership for their own game and put forth our best effort."

The month of November brings a lot of competition to the Penguins' schedule. The likes of Boston, Washington, Toronto, Calgary, and Carolina are all on the horizon.

Those are teams you can't afford to take even a shift off, let alone an entire period.

Boston and Washington are the old foes.

Toronto, Calgary, Carolina (and the Oilers who they faced last week), are the next foes. They're gunning for the crown. They do not intend to miss.

These may not be the Penguins of old, but they are the old Penguins.

It's on them to rise early and make it known they're still here or our discussion of how they finished could be much, much different. 

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