By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)
The 0-3 Pittsburgh Penguins hope to get their first win of the season tonight against the 3-1 Ottawa Senators at CONSOL Energy Center. Despite having players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang, Pittsburgh has only managed to score three total goals in their first three games of the season. Some fans are already in panic mode, but it’s a little too early for that. This team is clearly struggling, but they are seeing some scoring chances. The Penguins have outshot their opponents in two of their three games, but still have come up empty in the win column. They’re getting some good looks, but they’re not cashing in. Sounds familiar, huh? This seems to have been the case for quite a while now and it needs to get fixed soon. A three-game losing streak will happen to every team in the NHL, but it’s not the ideal start for a team that could be sold this year. Mario Lemieux wants his team to win and entertain people. So far, they haven’t exactly done that. Attendance is down this year as well as the Penguins put all tickets for tonight’s game at 50% off, a move you don’t see too often.
One of the biggest issues this year has been the terrible depth on defense. Past Letang and Olli Maatta, the Penguins are basically crossing their fingers that things will work out with the others. Ian Cole has been decent, but is he a top pairing defenseman? Probably not yet. Brian Dumoulin is a promising young player, but pairing him with Rob Scuderi doesn’t give him a chance to showcase what he can do. Scuderi has really struggled this season and you have to wonder how long the team will put up with it. Adam Clendening is a guy who should get some playing time as he was a key part in the trade that sent Brandon Sutter to Vancouver. Ben Lovejoy has been playing in the top-four this season as well, which isn’t a good fit for him at all. Mike Johnston’s system focuses a lot on activating the defense, but it’s hard to play that way when guys like Lovejoy and Scuderi are out there quite a bit. Scuderi isn’t going to get around opposing players and make a play. He’s going to make a long stretch pass and pray it gets to a Penguins player. More times than not, it doesn’t and results in a turnover. Something needs to change on the blue line because what’s going on right now won’t cut it.
While defense has been a big topic lately, the offense hasn’t gotten much done either. Crosby has no points in three games, which is very unlike him. Despite playing on a line with Kessel, Crosby has only four shots on goal this season. Many have speculated that Crosby is deferring to Kessel, but Crosby seems to think he hasn’t gotten many good chances to shoot. Whatever it may be, Pittsburgh needs Crosby to get more scoring chances. Malkin hasn’t been great either as he has only recorded one secondary assist. In the first game, he had Sergei Plotnikov on his line with Hornqvist, but that did not work out. David Perron has switched places with Plotnikov, but Perron hasn’t been able to get much going either. One bright spot in the offense has been the play of Beau Bennett. The former first-round pick of the Penguins has played well so far on the third line and cashed in the other night with a goal against Montreal. He looks much stronger on his skates and is playing well after a summer full of training. Unfortunately, Bennett has been hit with the bad luck bug again as he will miss tonight’s game with an undisclosed injury. While Daniel Sprong showed people he has some talent in the preseason, Johnston has yet to give him significant ice time despite knowing they must make a decision with him after nine games. At this point, why not try Sprong on the second or third line? He didn’t come up to the NHL to play on the fourth line. He might as well go back to juniors if that’s the case.
The Ottawa Senators, on the other hand, are having a great start to the season. Last night, the Senators overcame three one-goal deficits in Columbus to defeat the Blue Jackets 7-3. The impressive thing was that seven different Senators scored a goal in the game. They were Marc Methot, Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan. Captain Erik Karlsson recorded a career-high four assists in the victory as well. Karlsson now is tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the league lead in points after last night’s breakout. It’s always a treat to watch Karlsson and Letang on the same ice as both are always considered Norris Trophy contenders each year, depending on health. The Senators now have three players in the top-ten point leaders. A game like last night for the Senators is exactly what the Penguins need. That many goals gives guys confidence, which is why the Senators will be tough to play against tonight. In addition to Karlsson, Stone and Turris have also had great starts to the season. Turris has recorded four goals and two assists while Stone has notched one goal and five assists. That first line is getting it done and proving that the second half last season was not a fluke. Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond a.k.a “The Hamburglar” has yet to play this season as a result of a groin injury. Hammond led the team to an incredible second half last year and backed up Craig Anderson last night. Some speculated that he would start tonight, but that will not be the case as Anderson will be in goal tonight against the Penguins. Forward Clarke MacArthur will also miss tonight’s game for Ottawa.