While the hockey world is still trying to digest the aftermath of yesterday's brawl between the Penguins and Flyers -the statisticians might still be in Consol Energy Center trying to decipher the penalties- here's an alarming number from the Penguins: 29.

No, I'm not talking about Marc-Andre Fleury's jersey number. I am talking about the number of goals given up by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the last six games. In a span of two weeks, the Penguins went from 7th in the league in goals allowed, to 14th.

The reason? Not Marc-Andre Fleury. Despite the perception that Fleury has played in a ton of games this season, in actuality he has only played in three more games than he did in the 08-09 Cup run. While the Penguins have played games in bunches this season, Fleury has played in just 21 of the last 30 games which should technically give him a lot more rest than when he started in 21 of the last 23 regular season games in 08-09.

No, Fleury is not tired and he is not the reason why Pittsburgh has given up just under five goals a game in their last half-dozen contests. Has he been sharp? Not lately. His two performances against the Islanders were certainly less than stellar. At the same time, he's been hung out to dry countless times by the players in front of him.

Both the forwards and defensemen have been terrible in their own zone and it has been a problem all season. When there were issues early in the season, everyone shrugged, suggesting that the multitude of injuries -especially on defense- had disrupted the chemistry of the blue line. During the six game losing streak, the team was so devoid of goals, no one noticed the five spot put up by the Ottawa Senators.

And now, with the Penguins completely healthy for the first time in nearly two seasons, they've seemingly abandoned their post, leaving Marc-Andre Fleury on an island.

Just look at the goals Philadelphia scored on Sunday:
1) Turnover by Jordan Staal leads to a goal from Claude Giroux.
2) Zac Rinaldo shoots wide, tipped in by Maxime Talbot with no one around him.
3) Wayne Simmonds -standing completely alone in front of Fleury- slams the puck in on a cross-ice pass from Voracek.
4) Voracek blows past the defense and scores on a breakaway
5) Bad luck deflection.
6) Empty net.

Four of the six goals came off of a turnover or an excellent scoring chance; chances so good, it would take a ridiculous, over the top, highlight reel saves to keep the puck out of the net. Fleury has been doing that for much of this season but in the playoffs, he's going to need more help.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have scored more goals than any team in the league this year. But, in the process, the defense has been getting trapped in the attacking zone and the forwards have been playing like the defending side of the ice doesn't even exist. That's why they are losing despite putting up 40 shots per game.

The question is, after Sunday's game, did the Penguins finally get the message? It is hard to say. Everyone thought the "wake up call" was supposed to come after they lost back to back games to the lowly New York Islanders. But after a strong game in Buffalo, the Penguins went right back to their wild, undisciplined ways and the Flyers made them pay.

The silver lining may be that the Penguins are "saving" themselves for the playoffs. It sounds like a poor excuse but when you look at the 08-09 Red Wings, it may not be completely off-base. After all, Detroit was ranked 21st in goals allowed heading into the 08-09 playoffs and lost their final two games of the regular season to the rival Blackhawks.

Regardless, the Pittsburgh Penguins have the final three games to tighten up their play before they face one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference; a team they are 1-3-1 against this season. If the Penguins' recent play carries over to the first round of the playoffs, you may see the ticker tape parade heading down Broad Street instead of Stanwix Street in June.

Posted in Pittsburgh Penguins

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