"They are a victim of expectations. Part of the hype of Sidney Crosby is also part of the burden that he bears. They have come a long way in a fairly short period of time and he has had a remarkable first few years in the League, but you can't do it with two guys."
-- Mike Milbury on the Penguins
If Chris Osgood
doesn't start playing like the three-time Stanley Cup champion he is, NHL on NBC studio analyst Mike Milbury
believes the Detroit Red Wings
will be on the golf course earlier than expected this season.
"That remains the single issue of concern with me," Milbury told NHL.com as he broke down Sunday's matchup between the Red Wings at the Pittsburgh Penguins
, a rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Final that will be shown on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET.
According to Milbury, the Red Wings' woeful penalty kill, which is ranked 27th in the NHL and 30th on the road, is a byproduct of the average to good goaltending they have received this season.
Milbury said presumed No. 2 netminder Ty Conklin
has been good, but Osgood has been inconsistent and the stats back up Milbury's opinion.
Osgood's record (17-4-6) is strong, but his goals-against average of 3.29 is way higher than his career average of 2.46 and his save percentage of .880 is 26 percentage points lower than his career average.
"People have told me Ken Holland has built his team around the defense as opposed to the goaltender, but having said that, he hasn't had anything but outstanding goaltending," Milbury said. "If they don't get it now, they won't win it. They can get by with good goaltending because they are so good, but if it sinks to average all bets are off."
Although the Penguins' issues go beyond the crease, Milbury expressed concern with Marc-Andre Fleury
, who he believes has been only average since returning on Dec. 18 from a five-week absence due to a groin strain. Since coming back, Fleury, who was brilliant in the Penguins' playoff run last season, has appeared in 21 games and is 9-10-1. He has allowed three or more goals in 12 of his 20 starts. Coach Michel Therrien
has even pulled him out of two games.
"He was a good goaltender who got hurt and turned into an average goaltender since he's been back," Milbury said. "Despite his good run late last season, I haven't become a staunch believer in Fleury yet."
Fleury aside, Milbury suggests the Penguins have a bigger issue that is stinging them.
"This doesn't strike me as a team that is in love with getting to the rink," he said. "More than anything else, that concerns me."
If the playoffs were to begin today, the Penguins would be left out in the cold. They are sitting 10th in the conference with 29 games left. They're only one point out of a playoff spot, but Carolina is ahead of them at No. 9 as a result of having one game in hand.
Even though they are so close to that eighth seed, Milbury said no one is talking about how the Penguins will suddenly become a contender.
Consider, this is a team that has won back-to-back games only once since November, though they have a chance to do it Friday at home against Columbus after pulling off a stunning, 4-3, overtime victory Wednesday against Tampa Bay, which blew a 3-0 lead in the third period.
"As of today they are not in the playoffs, but nobody is saying, 'Hey, they have 30 games left, it's just a matter of time,' " Milbury said. "I don't see anybody saying that, nor should anybody say that. They have a bunch of teams around them that are pretty hungry.
"It seems to me it's a dogfight, which makes for Sunday's game to be very interesting," he continued. "Pittsburgh's desperation level is orange."
Milbury praised the play of Pens' captain Sidney Crosby
and alternate Evgeni Malkin
, who had two goals, including the overtime winner, and an assist to spark Wednesday's comeback. They are 1-2 in the League in scoring.
"It is the Malkin and Crosby Show sometimes," Milbury said. "It is a team game and they play 25 minutes each. That leaves a lot of time left."
It isn't, however, a surprise to Milbury that the Penguins have struggled this season. Although expectations are still very high for this team, they lost guys like Marian Hossa
, Ryan Malone
, Gary Roberts
, Georges Laraque
, Jarkko Ruutu
and Adam Hall
from last season's squad. All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar
has also been out for the entire season with a shoulder injury, though he is expected back within the next couple of weeks.
The Penguins are 23rd in both goals against (3.04 per game) and power play (16.0 percent) this season. They finished ninth and fourth, respectively, in those categories last season with 2.58 goals against and a power play that clicked 20 percent of the time.
"They are a victim of expectations," Milbury said. "Part of the hype of Sidney Crosby
is also part of the burden that he bears. They have come a long way in a fairly short period of time and he has had a remarkable first few years in the League, but you can't do it with two guys."
The Penguins are trying. They have powered-up their offense lately by playing Crosby and Malkin together on a line, but that takes a lot away from their second line, Milbury said. He likes it for the excitement, but believes it can be a detriment to the overall lineup.
"They load them up, but they have to have someone with (Jordan) Staal who can nurture him along," Milbury said. "What they want and what they can get out of (Staal) may be two different issues. Somehow they have to manufacture two different lines. If they can do that successfully I would love it."
The analyst also said the loss of Gonchar was underrated at the start, but it has killed the Penguins all season, way more than the loss of guys like Hossa and Malone.
"I'm not going to get on Hossa because that was really a big loss, but they need someone to anchor the blue line," Milbury said. "They have a lot of good defensemen, but they don't have anybody that does what he does."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.