The NHL trade deadline could not come at a better time for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last night’s loss to the Boston Bruins confirms it, and not for the reasons we originally anticipated.

There’s been wide speculation of the team’s needs from a top-six forward to a sixth or seventh defenseman. But the message of what they need was clearly transmitted from the ice surface of the TD Garden, and hopefully it’s been received loud and clear by general manager Jim Rutherford.

A sixth or seventh defenseman won’t be enough. They need better than that, and they need it as soon as they can get it; not for their playoff chances’ sake, not for the franchise’s sake, not even for the sake of the two world-class stars that have been the faces of the franchise for a decade.

They need a better defense for the sake of their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury.

You know, the goaltender they signed to a four-year, $23 million extension nearly a year and a half ago.

The same goaltender who went out and had arguably the best statistical season of his career after signing that extension.

The very same goaltender who could very well end this season with numbers that are pretty damn close to the previous one, if not equal, or even better.

Do you know what the majority of the other teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff race have in common? They have good goaltenders, too, and it’s not a coincidence.

Of the net minders in the conference that have started at least 25 games, Fleury is tied for the most shutouts among them (four), tied for sixth in wins (24), seventh in save percentage (.919) and ninth in goals against average (2.43). By the way, on that list of wins leaders, only Washington’s Braden Holtby has fewer regulation losses with six (Fleury has 14).

Some look at those numbers and probably think Fleury can be better. I look at the tape from last night and say his numbers should be better because his help should be better.

Fleury shouldn’t be hung out to dry by Derrick Pouliot for a potential breakaway that turns into a penalty shot goal by David Pastrnak, or by an errant pass from Olli Maatta from behind his own net that leads to another Pastranak goal, or by Maatta’s failure to secure a puck at the blue line for another breakaway goal, this time by Landon Ferrarro.

The Penguins do not look like a playoff team right now, regardless of what the standings say. They don’t have a playoff-caliber defense, and it’s dragging the play of their goaltender below what should be his otherwise-cresting production.

Stanley Cup contending teams need solid goaltending, but they need more than that. They need help for the goaltending. They need solid defense.

If the Penguins expect to be a Stanley Cup contender they will need better defense to even be considered solid, if for no other reason than because their goaltender — despite the lack thereof — has helped keep them within striking distance of the playoffs.

The Penguins need to get better defensively and fast because their goaltender deserves it; and he couldn’t get it at a better time.

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