The Pittsburgh Penguins will take on the Washington Capitals Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center just 24 hours removed from a 3-2 victory over the Capitals in D.C. Even though the Penguins came away with the victory, sentiments from both Sidney Crosby and head coach Dan Bylsma were that they need to play better.
The Penguins will finally return home after going 3-2 on a five-game road trip, but during those five games they were outshot 170-110 and outscored 15-12. All in all, the Penguins have not been playing their best hockey since returning from the Olympic break.
Breaking down the 12 goals scored by the Penguins in the last five games, it’s easy to see where the production is coming from. The distribution is as follows: Chris Kunitz (4), Matt Niskanen (2), Olli Maatta (2), Crosby, Deryk Engelland, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
When it’s all laid out, the 12 goals scored in the last five games have only come from forwards on the top two lines and defensemen. That’s not really the best equation for winning a Stanley Cup. Also consider that five of the 12 goals came on the power play.
The Penguins were lucky to escape with two points against the Capitals in their last meeting and need to have some production from their bottom-six forwards if they want to come out of Tuesday night’s game on top as well.
Newly acquired Marcel Goc is still coming into his own as a member of the Penguins, so I’m willing to cut him some slack. And even though a large part of the role of the bottom-six forwards is killing penalties, they’re going to need to start scoring at some point. A main reason for the Penguins’ collapse in the playoffs last year was because no one outside of Crosby, Malkin or Kris Letang could create any offense.
To me, the most pressure lies on Brandon Sutter because he has the most offensive talent out of the bottom-six forwards, and although he does kill penalties occasionally, it’s not his primary role. Head coach Dan Bylsma is often more willing to go with Craig Adams and Tanner Glass if the team needs a big kill.
If Sutter continues to get playing time with Jussi Jokinen, a move that Bylsma made just before Monday night’s game against the Capitals, there really isn’t any excuse for Sutter’s production to be limited. Having Jokinen at his disposal finally gives Sutter a legitimate scoring threat on a regular basis.
Crosby and Malkin are the superstars — there’s no way around it — but that doesn’t mean that they can be a part of every goal; winning consistently in hockey doesn’t work that way.
If you want something to watch in Tuesday’s game against Washington that could determine the outcome, it’s whether or not the Penguins can find some scoring productivity out of their bottom-six forwards. Brian Gibbons, who will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after being removed from Crosby’s line and was then subsequently scratched on Monday, will more than likely be in that part of the lineup as well.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST and will be shown on NBC Sports.
Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports; Feel free to follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow