Kulfan: Ice-cold Penguins look for answers
The Penguins were supposed to contend for a Stanley Cup.
The roster was made for a run, especially after general manager Jim Rutherford acquired winger Phil Kessel during the offseason to strengthen an already potent offensive roster that included Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It appeared to be a no-brainer this team would be fun to watch, offensively dominant and a cinch to make a run into June.
But as the calendars edge closer to 2016, the Penguins are languishing in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division (33 points) and out of the playoff picture (three points).
And nothing is going right.
■ Kessel has been pedestrian, with nine goals, and was on the third line during practice Wednesday.
■ Crosby (19 points, six goals) is on track for a career-worst season.
■ The Penguins are 25th in the NHL with a 2.31 goals-for average and 27th on the power play at 15.3 percent.
■ And, coach Mike Johnston was fired Saturday, replaced with Mike Sullivan.
Only Malkin (27 points, 14 goals) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (2.29 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) have performed to elite levels. Fleury, however, is out indefinitely with a concussion.
“I believe (Sullivan) is the guy that can come in and really take control, really make some guys more accountable,” Rutherford said.
And there’s plenty of time to straighten this mess out — and too much talent for this team not to contend.
Just like the Penguins, the Lightning is just outside the playoff picture after being considered Stanley Cup favorites by several analysts.
And the reason the Lightning is even within striking distance lies with goaltender Ben Bishop, who is 13-9-2 with a 1.92 GAA and .931 save percentage.
“He’s been out most consistent player — by far,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “Hasn’t had a bad game yet.”
Not bad praise for Bishop, who led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals last season yet doesn’t generally get mentioned among the NHL’s elite goaltenders.
“Ben is trending to that upper echelon,” TSN analyst Darren Pang said. “He has all the makings of a guy that can win a Vezina Trophy (best goaltender); he’s got all the makings of a guy who can win a Stanley Cup.”
Checking on checks
The Blues haven’t won consecutive games in a month, and coach Ken Hitchcock believes he knows why.
They don’t check enough.
“It’s the common denominator,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The more you check, the more you have the puck. The more you stay on the hunt, the more you play on your toes. When you’re inconsistent on that level, you open it up.”
Except for forward Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues aren’t scoring many goals, and the defense isn’t physical.