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Penguins Perspectives: With a quarter of the season gone, who are these Penguins?

Ireland Contracting Nightly Sports Call: Nov. 30, 2023 (Pt. 1)
Ireland Contracting Nightly Sports Call: Nov. 30, 2023 (Pt. 1) 06:01

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

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Traditional wisdom in the hockey community states that if you're in a playoff position, especially in the NHL's salary cap era, by American Thanksgiving, you'll be seated at Lord Stanley's Table come April. 

Since the current playoff format was instituted in 2013-14, just a shade over 75 percent of the teams in a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving went on to make the playoffs. 

Well…our fair Penguins were not in that position last week as we all sat down to watch football and chow down. 

However, if you're like me, you saw that percentage and thought, "That means a quarter of those teams in playoff positions miss." 

Also, if you're a sicko like me, you watch the standings from opening night until the season finale and you may have noticed that the NHL's Eastern Conference this year is about as tight as it's ever been. 

Currently, three points separate the last wild card spot from six teams fighting for said spot and as for the Penguins, they're two points out of playoff position and three off of third in the Metropolitan Division. 

So, what am I getting at? 

The Penguins, as I wrote two weeks ago, have the puzzle pieces of a contender, they just need to be put together. 

With a quarter of the season in the rearview mirror, let's take a look at what's working, what's not, and what is needed for this team to make a push. 

Power-Less Play

We can't avoid it, you've heard about it, you've read about, and you've most certainly watched it - the power play is bad. They get some cover because they've had 59 power play opportunities which is last in the NHL and there are six teams with power play percentages worse than theirs. 

However, that cover isn't much and it's certainly a cold comfort. 

The problems are obvious and they are many - the top unit does not have a shoot-first mentality, they do not move in the zone, and appear to have some sort of allergic aversion to the front of the net. That includes rebounds and screening the goalie. 

The good news is that all of this is extremely fixable. Taking a player like Radim Zohorna or Drew O'Connor, or crazy as it may sound, Jeff Carter, and making them simply the net-front person could cure a lot of what ails this power play. 

The most important player a penalty kill has is the goaltender, and making their life more difficult when their team is down a man is one way to make sure you're taking advantage of the advantage. 

Put some more pucks on net and make sure the opposing goalie isn't seeing it is, if nothing else, a way to gain momentum on the power play, if not score. 

Depth Needs To Go Deeper

Now, the Penguins, like many teams with Stanley Cup dreams, they find themselves up against the salary cap, so finding help via a trade will require money in, money out. 

Similar to last year, their top six forwards are producing as expected, especially Crosby, Rust, Malkin, and Guentzel. However, their role players are not. 

No bottom-six forward has double-digit points. The closest is Lars Eller with eight. 

While the Penguins don't need their bottom-six forwards to carry the load offensively, they once again will need more from them. 

For the Penguins to keep pace in a competitive Eastern Conference, a call to an old friend may help - Bill Guerin in Minnesota just fired his coach, his team is struggling and falling fast, maybe someone like Pat Maroon or Marcus Johannson could be had for a price. 

Obviously, those are just two quick examples, but for Kyle Dubas, finding a creative way to bolster the bottom six must be priority one. 

Jekyll Jarry

He's finding his game…and finding the net. 

This has to continue. Well, not scoring (but that would be nice!) but being a rock in the net. With Alex Nedeljkovic proven to be more than just a capable backup, the Penguins suddenly have strength in the net. 

However, we can't have him go cold one week and hot the next. 

Signs are pointing to that being a thing of the past - he leads the league in shutouts and his save percentage has climbed to .919. He also has been stringing together solid outing after solid outing. 

While goaltending wasn't the reason they missed the playoffs last year, it certainly did not help. 

With 60 games remaining, the Penguins appear to be finding something, however inconsistent it may be. 

Aside from making a couple of strategic and roster changes, this team appears to be in much better position than they were last year. 

But, just like your favorite Thanksgiving dish went fast, so could the Penguins' chances. 

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