The playoffs are no longer a certainty for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team, like its offensive production, is sinking and answers are few. Tonight, the Penguins play the Philadelphia Flyers, and the loser will occupy Last place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins. Last place. Things are that bad.
The Flyers, after a 10 game losing streak have surged. The Hurricanes are rising. Even the Florida Panthers are just two points behind the Penguins with two games in hand.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are under .500, 19-18-3. In December, the Penguins didn’t beat a playoff team in regulation. They have lost three of their last four games. General Manager Jim Rutherford’s threatened shakeup hasn’t yet occurred, though the addition of defenseman Jamie Oleksiak will give the Penguins more options as Letang and Schultz return shortly.
Against surging division rival Carolina Hurricanes, Friday, the Penguins were dominated. Sunday, against sagging the Eastern Conference foe Detroit Red Wings, the Penguins pressured but managed only a power-play goal in a 4-1 loss.
The Penguins no longer have the luxury of waiting.
It’s time to aid weary hearts, aching legs, and sticks gripped too tightly. It’s time to embrace an identity and feed into it. Or, its time to accept this season will end in April, in the regular season or first round of the playoffs.
Acceptance isn’t necessarily the worst thing. In fact, it may be the best thing for 2019.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs are excellent teams. Tampa Bay is perhaps a great team.
Even with a shakeup, could the Penguins compete? With the right jostling of their roster, yes. With a vanilla shakeup, no.
So, the Penguins are no longer in full control of their fate. They not only must overcome teams such as the Flyers, Hurricanes, and New York Islanders to make the playoffs, they must find a trade partner willing to make the two-time Stanley Cup champions better.
Against playoff caliber teams, the Penguins roster is proving it isn’t capable of sustained offensive pressure, adequate offensive production or protecting its zone from an offensive rush in great enough measure to earn victories.
The only measure in which the Penguins are excelling is the suppression of dirty play. They don’t yet appear willing to trade that for a few more goals-for.
Penguins Shakeup Untouchables
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray and probably Phil Kessel are the untouchables. Everyone else is fair game. Kris Letang is not on the block according to sources, but he’s also not untouchable.
The Penguins do not have the luxury of emotional attachments or to play to fan loyalties, as they have done in the past. Players like Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, and Daniel Sprong are the Penguins best trade chips. Ian Cole and one of the Penguins defensemen, such as Brian Dumoulin or Olli Maatta, are the others.
It’s easy to proffer names like Carl Hagelin, but unless the NHL GM’s have a bar crawl, beer pong tournament Hagelin will not fetch a significant enough return which will affect change (Perhaps Brian Burke’s tie would remain tied for the entire event).
One could only imagine Twitter in 1992 if Mark Recchi and Paul Coffey were floated as trade potentials. As it were, my high school cafeteria was divided between those who recognized what Rick Tocchet brought and the sentimental who simultaneously deplored Tocchet’s Flyer heritage and losing skill players.
PHN will be comparing 1992 and 2017 later this week.
The Penguins are what they are. Their record is indicative of their team. The Penguins are now a superstar-laden team but are missing the sparks of success.
Based on Jim Rutherford’s comments over the past two months, the Penguins are still shopping for a third line center, wingers with bulk, and are looking to tweak their defense.
You’ll find no argument here.
Also, there is little roster competition which spurred the Penguins in 2016 and little hunger for greatness which propelled them last year. The 2017 Penguins were great and still enjoyed the challenge.
They are no longer a great team. Perhaps Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon will inject some roster competition. Possibly Carl Hagelin’s recent jump will continue, and he will be the player he was in 2016.
Maybe the return of Justin Schultz and Letang will jumpstart the Penguins offense like a bolt of lightning.
And, perhaps the Penguins will find that missing spark which allows them to make additions instead of wholesale changes. However, with each game they are falling further behind; their hole dug deeper. The time left to figure things out is coming to a close.
The competition is not waiting.
The season is at a crossroads. Waiting until the trade deadline in seven weeks could render the decision moot. Rutherford made the threat. Now it’s time to follow through, or accept the limitations of this team.