The NHL season is long, so jumping to conclusions about a team the first five to ten game in is never the best way to evaluate a team. For the Pittsburgh Penguins, a 4-0-1 start in which they scored six goals in all four victories sprang optimism as they traveled west to continue a 5-game road trip that began with a win at the Blue Jackets.
Then, during the second period in their game against the Edmonton Oilers, the bottom fell out, squandering a 3-1 lead, as the Oilers scored four goals in that period on their way to a 6-3 win, handing Pittsburgh its first regulation loss of the season.
After that, the Penguins only managed a single goal in their remaining games at the Flames, Canucks and Kraken.
Nothing deflates a team and its fans like a 1-4 road trip, but what can lift them up is getting a big home win on national television against the Boston Bruins, who have been the best team out of the gate. Into the second period, it appeared a bounce-back win was imminent for the Penguins, leading 5-2 after two-quick goals.
But that didn’t happen.
Boston scored not long after they went up three goals, as Pittsburgh played on their heels in the third period, with the Bruins scoring with 8 minutes left, and a Taylor Hall goal to tie it with 1:17 left, later finishing off a 6-5 comeback in overtime in front of a PPG Paints Arena crowd, most of which left to beat traffic when the Penguins lead was shaved to 5-4 at the final media timeout.
Speaking of multi-goal leads, the Penguins, once again playing in front of a national T.V. audience the next night, allowed the Buffalo Sabres to not only tie it, but prevent Pittsburgh from limping out of Buffalo with a point, winning 6-3 in regulation, sending the Penguins to a record of 4-5-2.
Losing streaks happen, but there are more positive when your teams is competitive. Games that are hard-fought, down-to-the-wire where they lose in regulation or overtime can be tough to swallow, but the way the Penguins have lost games would make any fan livid.
Losses to the Canadiens, Oilers, Bruins and Sabres were the result of blowing two-goal leads. Three of those games saw it happen in the third period. Throw in that the Penguins did it on back-to-back nights is more painful than any dental procedure without Novocain.
As the Penguins embarked on the western Canada portion of their road trip, I wrote that it was a big, first test for the team, and going 1-4 is only a 20 percent success rate, which in any academic setting is an F. Easy to say, that failing grade was earned.
Questions have emerged about the team’s depth, speed and offseason moves over the last six games, which is fair since there was uncertainty of what the 2022-23 season would bring for a team whose bottom has not yet fallen out, not slipping into a playoff drought like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, who like the Penguins, won multiple Stanley Cups in the 2010s.
Maybe this is the year it happens? It’s inevitable for every team, and when it does happen for Pittsburgh, it will end a playoff streak that began all the way back in 2007.
With 71 games left, there’s no need to push the panic button. But some may have had their finger hovering over it after the Buffalo loss.