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Stat dropoff, road struggles have Penguins seeking consistency

| Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, 10:33 p.m.
USA Today Sports
Capitals defenseman Mike Green scores a goal on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the third period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 4-0.

WASHINGTON — It's not time to panic, defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

But it's also not OK, Scuderi insisted, for the Penguins to let their recent run of inconsistency linger.

“I don't think it's any time to panic yet,” Scuderi said, “but certainly, we'd like get our fingers on the problem immediately.”

What is the problem?

There are a few.

For one, goals are not coming at the same pace they were earlier in the season. Over the past 16 games, during which the Penguins are 5-7-4, they are averaging 2.56 goals per game.

Contrast that to the beginning of the year, where the team put up 3.75 over their first 16 games, a 31.7 percent dropoff.

Defensively, the Penguins have allowed 3.13 per game over the past 16 compared to 2.19 in the first 16.

“I don't think it's time for the closed-door meeting or anything like that,” Scuderi said. “Certainly there are things that we want to work on. You can't just keep saying there's more time left, there's more time left in the season. We want to fix these things as soon as they happen.”

Another area plaguing the Penguins has been faceoffs.

The Penguins won 24 of 63 faceoffs during a 4-0 loss Wednesday at Washington, a 38 percent success rate.

They have won 49.1 percent on the year, which ranks 18th in the NHL. It's their lowest mark since winning draws at the same clip during the 2008-09 Stanley Cup-winning season.

“There are nights where, for whatever reason, bounces, stuff like that … I thought we wanted to win them,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who won 7 of 24 draws (29.2 percent) against the Capitals. “It's a matter of executing that.”

It's also a matter of getting the wingers involved, coach Mike Johnston said.

“It's not always the centers,” Johnston said. “We found a lot of times we're losing those battles with our wingers or our defense on the half-boards.”

The Penguins also have struggled to pick up points away from Consol Energy Center. The Penguins went 6-1-1 in eight road games over the first 16 games of the season. They're 1-4-2 in their past seven road contests.

Their last Metropolitan Division win came New Year's Eve, and they have two division wins since Nov. 29, both against the Carolina Hurricanes, who have just 39 points on the season.

“If we learn anything, we have to learn to stick with it,” Scuderi said. “I think we've actually be doing a good job of that recently. We see what happens if we don't stick with the game plan for the full 60 minutes. Whether you're up or down, if you stick with it and stay even keel, you keep yourself a better chance to pull out a game.”

Another problem has been special teams, especially the penalty kill. The Penguins have allowed a power-play goal in five of their past six games, dropping them to fourth in the NHL at 86.8 percent.

It's still a strong percentage, but Johnston was none too pleased with how his team failed to challenge Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in the second period Wednesday.

“There's a certain way we wanted to play it, and we didn't on that one particular play,” Johnston said. “I thought we overplayed the side. We know it's going to come up and over to him.

“We've been aware of that. You try and take him away as teams do. Sometimes it opens up some other things, but you just can't give him the shot from there.”

The Penguins seemingly righted themselves with strong performances against Chicago before the All-Star break and during a 5-3 win over the Jets on Tuesday. But that momentum seemed to disappear Wednesday.

A practice could serve the Penguins well. So, too, will some rest, Crosby said. Especially after back-to-back games.

“When you come off a break like that and you've played two in a row, it taxes you a bit more than normal,” Crosby said. “(We're) just trying to regroup. I think that competing allows a lot of things to happen, a lot of good things. As long as we focus on that, usually the other stuff kind of takes care of itself.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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