*Written and Submitted by Johnny Violence*

 

Monday Night, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

Millions of  Americans were tuned into to watch the battle of the Gunslingers on Monday Night Football. Yet there was a smaller contingent, roughly half a million that tuned in to watch a once proud champion attempt to reclaim their national spotlight.

The Buffalo Sabers were in town to take on our Pittsburgh Penguins.

The game got off to the start team would have hoped for. The Gunslingers of the Penguins came to play early. With Phil Kessel scoring a goal Evengine Malkin and Patric Hornqvist grabbing two points each. Goals from Derick Brassard, Jake Guentzel and newcomer Tanner Pearson, the game seemed to be going the Penguins way. Until late on a powerplay in the 2nd period where Sabers goaltender Carter Hutton made a sprawling toe save on Kessel to prevent the Penguins from taking a dominating five to one lead. It was this save that would be the catalyst for a Sabers comeback that harkened back to the late 2000’s Penguins.

After a lucky bounce made the score two to four the Penguins found themselves defending a rush by the surging Sabers. Veteran defenseman Jack Johnson seemed to have queled the attack until Sabers Captain would give chase to Johnson behind the Penguins net with a great forechecking play. This caused a turnover and for the puck to cycle out to the blue line where Jeff Skinner would step into a slap shot that came with its own sonic boom.

Despite its speed this is a routine save for most goalies, however Casey DeSmith looked mediocre on his save attempt. Missing the angle comptly and watching the slap shot sore past him to pull the young Sabers within a goal of the Penguins.
At this point it would have been tempting to pull the inexperienced netminder as his frustration was clearly written across his face, but this is the Penguins, this team is loaded, and one of their many generational talents could take over the game at any time right….. RIGHT??????

Buffalo was surging and the Penguins were having troubles controlling the game when nineteen year old Casey Mittelstadt found himself in alone on DeSmith lifting a puck over his shoulder that would have made a water bottle explode.

The tying goal disturbs me greatly. Sure it’s a good shot but the reason he has all that room upstairs is because DeSmith totally misplays it. He is on his knees before the puck leaves the shooters stick. Note Kessels breakaway minutes later. Hutton uses a crouching position as Kessel attempts to go high blocker. The chance is easily defused by Hutton.

Instead DeSmith rattled and unsure does what most goalies would do and drops into the butterfly. However this fatal mistake would bring the Sabers even with a team that seemed so dominant for the first half of the game.

To their credit the Penguins attempted to reclaim the lead late but Hutton boasting a 2.16 GAA and a .927 Save Percentage in November was sharp and shut the Pens down at every turn.

By the time one of the NHL’s hardest shots gets a clean look in OT, DeSmith’s confidence is so far gone he would have let a beach ball past him. Eichel finds a hole blocker side and release a wrist shot to end the game. DeSmith’s body language tells the whole story throwing his arms up as if this couldn’t be his fault.
The game seems to just be another chapter of a team struggling to find answers. They have changed up their lines, they have made a dramatic trade to shake up the locker room, and still nothing. So what is their next step?

Another trade is likely, however there are two cards that Jim Rutherford has in his back pocket that could save this team. The first one and the most likely is a coaching change. As much as Mike Sullivan has been a godsend to this franchise sometimes coaches wear out their welcome, and on a team driven by star power coaches tend to burn out quickly. Also there’s a coach currently doing shotskis in a parking lot in Chicago who could be a perfect fix. Joel Quenneville aka Coach Q is a proven winner. He coached Crosby in the olympics, he lead the Chicago Blackhawks to three cups in five years, and is world renowned for his no nonsense coaching style. He has a knack for getting the best out of a supporting cast while still allowing his stars to shine. As much as I personally love Mike Sullivan the thought of Coach Q yelling Peanut Butter as he stomps up and down the bench in Pittsburgh is to strong to pass up.

The other solution is simple, in fact it’s so simple its amazing it hasn’t been tried yet. His name is Tristan Jarry. The Wilkes-Barre Scranton netminder is a former second round draft pick who has been developing in the Penguins system for years. He has proven to be bonafide starter in the minors and in his few glimpses in the NHL has shown flashes of brilliance. Two years ago when Matt Murray splashed onto the scene everyone wondered what we would do with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. At the time of the great goalie debate there was an opinion circulating that it was in fact Jarry who was the goalie of the future. That Jarry would surpass both his predecessors and become a star in the NHL. I think the time is now for Tristan Jarry to get his shot at the NHL level. Give him a stretch of games where he knows he is the starter and lets find out if the kid has what it takes.

In the end all we know is what the Penguins are doing is not working, and despite the teams struggles the big four Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Letang are still putting up all star numbers. So if the problem isn’t at the top where is it, and how do we fix it?

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Written by Johnny Violence

The lead NHL/Hockey writer for Thoughts From The Bench.

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