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Numbers add up to struggles for Penguins

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, 4:27 p.m.
Buffalo Sabres' Jeff Skinner (53) can't get a shot off behind Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith (1) with Kris Letang (58) defending during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. The Sabres won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Buffalo Sabres' Jeff Skinner (53) can't get a shot off behind Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith (1) with Kris Letang (58) defending during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. The Sabres won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

After a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, defenseman Kris Letang said he wouldn’t measure his team’s struggles by one bad loss or its improvement by one thrilling win.

That’s a measured approach that seems perfectly appropriate to take while the calendar remains in early December.

Still, two months of hockey is enough time to identify some frightening numbers that stick out like red flags as the Penguins have limped to a 10-10-5 start.

Here’s a look at five such numbers.

3: Even-strength goals scored by the Penguins’ third line.

Through 25 games, the Penguins have started games with 11 combinations on the third line. In about 183 minutes of even-strength action, those combinations have been outscored 10-3.

The third line hasn’t produced an even-strength goal since Bryan Rust scored in a 9-1 win over Calgary on Oct. 25. That’s a drought of 17 games.

The actual picture probably isn’t quite that bleak, since the calculation includes only production from third lines that started the game and discounts in-game shuffling or goals scored in the middle of line changes, but it’s pretty bad nonetheless.

By way of comparison, the combination of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon has outscored opponents 11-5 in about 108 minutes of ice time, and the trio of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel outscored foes 11-7 in about 144 minutes of ice time.

11: Games the Penguins have started this season with Derick Brassard as third-line center.

During those games, he has one goal, one assist, a minus-1 rating and 13 shots on goal. The goal and six of the shots came in a season-opening, 7-6 overtime win over Washington.

Brassard was acquired at the trade deadline last season largely to restore the three-line attack the Penguins used to win a Stanley Cup in 2016 when the HBK Line was all the rage. It hasn’t happened.

18: Days that have passed since the Penguins traded Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson on Nov. 14.

At the time, general manager Jim Rutherford said his patience was running out.

“This could be the start of more changes, or we’ll see how this goes here for a little bit,” Rutherford said at the time. “But the way things have gone here in the first part of the season, it’s obvious that we had to change something up.”

Since then, the team has gone 3-4-2. That’s better than the 1-5-1 stretch that preceded the trade, but it’s hard to imagine it’s enough improvement to satisfy a disgruntled GM.

2: Wins in eight games against Metropolitan Division opponents this season.

The biggest factor keeping the Penguins from slipping into the abyss during the first two months of the season might be the weakness of the Metropolitan Division. Coming into Sunday, the teams in third through eighth place were separated by just six points.

That gives the Penguins hope, but only if they beat some division foes along the way. A 2-5-1 record won’t cut it.

“We have a good division,” goalie Casey DeSmith said. “It will be a battle all the way to the end of the season.”

.898: Combined save percentage of the Penguins’ goalies.

That ranks 10th-worst in the NHL. Of the nine teams with lower save percentages, only two are in playoff positions, Montreal and San Jose, and they came into Sunday clinging to eighth spots in their respective conferences.

There are plenty of mitigating factors making life difficult on Penguins goalies. The team’s inability to regularly break the puck out of the defensive zone cleanly is chief among them. Still, the Penguins will have to make more saves than they have to climb in the standings.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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