Pittsburgh Penguins Defense Needs to Step Up

Penguins defense Jack Johnson
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 13: Jack Johnson #73 of the Pittsburgh Penguins helps defend the net with goaltender Casey DeSmith #1 against the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 13, 2018 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins were flying high again after their four-game Canadian road trip when they outscored teams by a 23-6 margin. Nine of those goals came in one game against the Calgary Flames but it was a dominant road trip for Pittsburgh that put them in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins have returned home for three out of four games and have been outscored by an 18-6 margin. The Penguins defense has encountered many problems during these last few games. Despite it being early in the season, things need to change.

Pittsburgh Penguins Defense Needs to Step Up

Defensive Zone Coverage

This has been the biggest problem for the Penguins during this stretch of losing games. They’re letting teams skate into the zone almost at will and they’re not doing anything about it. On Monday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, the Penguins were hemmed in their own zone way too many times and it’s how the Devils just smothered Pittsburgh. There were also players just standing all alone in front of the net to deflect shots. It happened against the Devils as the Penguins were just leaving Brian Boyle in front of the net all game long and not doing anything about it. No team should allow an opposing player to just stand in front of their net at will and it’s been happening to the Penguins in all four of these games. Anders Lee of the New York Islanders was also left alone in front of the net during the Penguins most recent two games against New York. It has got to clean up as they need to start being sound defensively in front of their goaltender.

Breakaways And Odd-Man Rushes

Pittsburgh is also giving up way too many breakaways and odd-man rushes. Going back to the Devils game again, the Penguins gave up three breakaways in the game’s first 25 minutes. Some teams don’t even get three breakaways in an entire game when they play other teams. The Penguins couldn’t even get close to that last night as they were hanging goaltender Matt Murray out to dry. They also left him out to dry against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home as Kasperi Kapanen and Patrick Marleau came in on breakaways. Marleau was the one who scored on a breakaway and Morgan Rielly scored after getting behind everyone as well:


Going back to Monday night’s game though, one of the breakaways Pittsburgh gave up was a shorthanded breakaway to defenseman Andy Greene. Giving up shorthanded breakaways is always a recipe for disaster but one to¬†Greene? Pittsburgh was lucky that Murray bailed the power play unit out.

Power Play And Shorthanded Issue

Pittsburgh has also given up three shorthanded goals through their first 13 games this season. They gave up only three shorthanded goals during all of last season. That number had them right near the top of the league. Players are being careless with the puck and they’re not playing well defensively to support Murray. Murray has been the biggest reason that the Penguins have been in these games. He could play a bit better but he’s the least of the Penguins problems right now.

Overall, the Penguins can try to end this losing streak on Wednesday night when they face the Washington Capitals. It’s going to be a big test for them defensively and we’ll see if head coach Mike Sullivan can get the team to stop being so careless. Once they fix these defensive zone problems, they should be on their way to winning more games. It’s just a good thing that this is happening in November and not in February or March.

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