With eight games remaining in the 2009-2010 regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are staggering towards the Stanley Cup playoffs like a punch-drunk prize fighter.
This is, of course, a direct contrast to the 2008-2009 team that not only charged into the spring tourney, but kicked in the proverbial postseason door with a vengeance.
The club’s 6-3-3 record since the end of the Olympic break is not overwhelmingly alarming on paper or in the standings, but on the ice it is another matter.
The Penguins have failed, yet again, to assert themselves against the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. They managed two more listless and uninspiring losses to the New Jersey Devils and suffered a third blown lead defear at the hands of Alex Ovechkin and the league leading Washington Capitals.
I am well aware that regular season domination against certain clubs does not always translate into postseason success against those same clubs.
The playoffs and the regular season are like night and day, but it is impossible to argue that grabbing some wins against the teams that they are battling for Eastern Conference supremacy against wouldn’t have been a nice boost to the Penguins’ confidence (and to their place in the playoff seedings for that matter).
There have been an array of unwanted issues that have crept in and out of Pittsburgh’s game all season long, such as inconsistency over 60 minutes, struggles on the power play, and problems with defensive zone coverage.
The aforementioned concerns have been glaring at times and minute at others (every team has some holes in its game, the key is limiting the exposure of them in the playoffs) but it is some of the more subtle issues that I have noted of late that are a bit disconcerting.