All That Glitters Is Not Black and Vegas Gold for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Nicholas CaseCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2008

19-13-4. This doesn't seem so bad in the win/loss column, does it?
With 36 games into the season, 42 points isn't too shabby. Seventh in the Conference, it looks decent.
However, you're just looking at the cover of the book and deeming it quality. A further peak inside tells of troubling times in Penguinland.
In the last 10 games, they have a 4-6-0 record. Looking deeper at stats, they are 8-9-3 against teams currently in the top eight positions in their conferences (Buffalo, Philly, Washington, Boston, Rangers, Montreal, New Jersey, Detroit, Pheonix, San Jose, and Edmonton). Now, stats don't tell the entire story, but they are some of the chapters.
The current slide of the Penguins should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the team without their black and gold glasses on. For the majority of the season, they have constantly played uninspired hockey. The number of full games they've played can be counted on one hand.
For a large part of the season they've either played poorly for all, but the last 10 percent of the game, where they make a miraculous comeback, or played well in the first 10 percent and then blew the lead they've built.
What's the cause of this? Well, there are several possibilities, all of which more than likely fill out the rest of the book.

Their youth:
The core is young, and plays streaky. I can buy it for the current down trend. They had an incredibly hot streak between games 12 and 17 where they were just on fire. You couldn't keep them off of the score sheet. They came back down to earth, now they're bottoming out.

No Secondary Scoring:
116 goals scored in 38 games has them seventh in the league in goals. However, either Malkin or Crosby have contributed at least an assist in nearly 68 percent of all the goals scored, meaning out of every three goals scored, only one was not because of Malkin or Crosby's hand.

While not including Gonchar and Whitney, since they've been out since before the season, they've been struck by some injuries. The biggest being to Fleury. However, third line spark plug Tyler Kennedy is out and since then, their play has dropped. Key face off man Mike Zigomanis is injured.
The defense has been plagued for on and off injuries. It's not helped for consistency. Fleury has returned and is playing reasonably well, and Whitney has returned stronger than ever. Perhaps when they adjust to the flow of the game again, things will get better.

Therrien is a one trick pony. He only knows one system, and if the players can't conform, they and the team fails. He was not able to tweak his system to make up for the loss of Gonchar and Whitney, two people extremely important to the Penguins breakout system. He hasn't adjusted for the lack of grit the team has, and he hasn't been able to motivate them to play a full 60 minutes.

Special Teams:
Currently the Penguins' special teams rank in the middle of the league. While respectable, a power play that has Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Petr Sykora, and defensemen like Phillipe Boucher, Alex Goligoski, and Kris Letang should be ranked higher than 15th.
Before their 9-2 blowout against the Islanders, their power play was way down in the lower third of the league. Their PK, ranked 14th. Hal Gill has been injured and the poor positional play of Dany Sabourin can be contributing factors to that. Not to mention that Mike Yeo is a terrible, terrible special teams coach.

The biggest fear amongst Pens fans should be whether the current trend continues. If it does, it could be a long season. A big trade deadline could make things better, and the return of Whitney and Gonchar would be a big help. That's assuming that they are able to get into the swing of things right away.
There's still hope for this years team. However, there's plenty of work to be done in order to make those dreams a reality.