5 Improvements the Pittsburgh Penguins Must Make in Order to Win the Cup
When a team has the fourth-best record in the NHL, is currently on a five-game winning streak and has two of the three leading scorers in the league, it can be difficult to find flaws. The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have all three of these traits, but they are far from perfect.
Finding the positives is simple. Sidney Crosby has eight more points than anybody else in the league and is coming off a five-assist game against the New York Islanders. Chris Kunitz is having a career year, and Paul Martin is beginning to become the player the Penguins hoped he would be.
However, if the Pens want to once again raise Lord Stanley's Cup, here are five things they must improve on as they approach the postseason.
5. Winning at Home
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While the Penguins are a respectable 7-4-0 at home, they will have to be more consistent at Consol Energy Center if they want to make a run at winning it all. Last year was a perfect example of how important it is to win at home in the playoffs, and the lower-seeded teams took advantage of the higher-seeded teams' inability to do so.
They especially can't take any hits against division opponents on home ice. Three of their four home losses have come against division foes: the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils.
The other came against the surprising Toronto Maple Leafs.
This issue definitely isn't keeping Dan Bylsma up at night, as the Pens have won their last four games at home; however, they will need to continue their winning ways on home ice in the back end of the regular season.
4. Penalty Kill Efficiency
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You think the Pens don't miss Jordan Staal? He was their best penalty killer for years and thus far this season, they have only killed off 78.8 percent of them, good enough for 22nd in the NHL. Back in January, Dejan Kovacevic wrote an article about how Matt Cooke was specifically studying PK film from last year's playoff series against the Flyers, so it's apparent the willingness to improve is there, but the execution hasn't been.
The acquisition of Brandon Sutter in the Jordan Staal trade gave Pens fans hopes that he could fill that void on the PK, but he has failed to do so. Even Sidney Crosby has been giving killing penalties a shot, a rare job for the team's superstar.
One of, if not the main reason why the Penguins were ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs last year was because of their inability to kill penalties, and if it doesn't improve, it could be déjà vu for the boys in black and gold.
3. Malkin's Safety
It's hard to say that the Pens training staff needs to make an improvement here, but it is something that needs to be done leading up to the playoffs. Malkin missed time earlier in the season with a concussion, a word that has haunted the Penguins' superstars, and it was reported Sunday that he will miss one to two weeks with a "non-specific upper-body injury."
When he returns, head coach Dan Bylsma needs to be careful about how he places Geno in the lineup. It's a gray area between making sure he doesn't go into the playoffs rusty and making sure he is 100 percent healthy.
Either way, the Pens staff has to do a better job protecting last year's NHL MVP.
2. 3rd- and 4th-Line Scoring
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There's no arguing against the fact that Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Kris Letang and even Pascal Dupuis are having great years thus far offensively; however, the Pens' lack of depth has shown as well, which would mean trouble in the playoffs.
Beau Bennett has looked great lately, but playing with Evgeni Malkin before his injury obviously helped his progression. Guys like Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and especially Brandon Sutter need to step up offensively as the playoffs approach.
To put it into perspective, Crosby and Kunitz have combined for 81 points this year. Cooke, Kennedy, Sutter, Bennett, Craig Adams, Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres and Joe Vitale have combined for only 51.
On a separate note, the fact that Tanner Glass is an everyday player bewilders me. He has a minus-nine rating (worst on the team) and is yet to register a point. I understand he is an enforcer and a role player, but he seems to consistently do more harm than good.
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It's pretty amazing that the Penguins have 18 wins while giving up 2.92 goals per game. Asking them to put up four goals every game in order to get a W is asking a lot, and come playoff time, it's defense that wins championships.
Many thought that the addition of Tomas Vokoun would push Marc-Andre Fleury to display the promise he showed back in 2008, but that is yet to happen. Fleury is 28th in the league in save percentage and 24th in goals-against average. That's just not good enough for someone with as much talent and potential as Fleury.
Flower is blessed with the fact that he plays for a team that only gives up 28 shots per game on average, which is a testament to his 12 wins with such a poor save percentage.
It should be no surprise to Pens fans that goaltending is the one aspect of their game that must improve in order for them to win the Cup.