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It’s Not Time for Penguins to Panic… Yet; Here’s Why

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evgeni malkin pittsburgh penguins
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 15: Pittsburgh Penguins Center Evgeni Malkin (71) skates during the first period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 15, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

PITTSBURGH  — Relax. A little, anyway. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost two straight and gained only one of four possible points this weekend in back-to-back games against St. Louis and Philadelphia. And the Penguins fan base which was only days before getting excited was again in full throat panic.

Relax. A little, anyway.

The most concerning note of the weekend was not the Ls placed on schedule but Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin is out week-to-week. He suffered an upper-body injury Saturday, likely when St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo drilled him in the ribs with a cross-check away from the play.

The cross-check didn’t even merit a penalty, according to the on-ice officials. Go figure.

Fortunately, the Penguins have a seven-point cushion on the Montreal Canadiens, which makes the Penguins magic number 14 officially, but 13 points in reality. Montreal has 10 games remaining and may gain only 20 possible points. Even if Montreal gets 16 points in their final 20, the Penguins would need only nine points (and four regulation or overtime wins) in their final nine games to make the playoffs.

Feeling a little better?

It is important to note one shortcoming which hampered the Pittsburgh Penguins especially against Philadelphia was not a lack of effort but a personnel matter. As noted in the PHN Extra Report Card, Philadelphia typically pulled an extra defender to the low zone which allowed more space at the top of the zone.

The Penguins don’t currently have enough offensive firepower on the blue line. The only healthy Penguins offensive defenseman who is able to competently activate or pressure defenders with good shots from the point is Justin Schultz. Essentially, the Flyers took advantage of that inability to help defend what the Penguins can do well: Get to the net and dominate the low zone.

The Penguins still won more than their share of the puck battles and established outposts on the walls but the increased body count took away space to capitalize.

When Kris Letang returns, opponents will not be able to clog the low zone without consequence.

Now, the Malkin injury could be a game changer. The playoffs begin on April 10, which is over three weeks away but a week-to-week injury sounds like Malkin could miss the rest of the season and be a lingering issue or out for Round One.

Is not a second line with Bryan Rust-Nick Bjugstad-Patric Hornqvist a competent second line for most teams? Or with Dominik Simon. Teddy Blueger showed enough Sunday night that he could be a competent third line center with Phil Kessel and Rust or Simon. The Penguins will be OK without Malkin, but OK isn’t the goal.

The Penguins can not make a deep playoff run without Malkin. They could beat the New York Islanders and they would have a fighting chance against the Washington Capitals. The panic surrounding the Malkin injury and playoffs is not about making the playoffs, but about seeding.

If the Penguins limp into the playoffs as a wild-card, they would likely draw Washington in Round One but if they fall to the second wild-card–they draw Tampa Bay. AIn’t no one beating Tampa Bay in Round One.

No one.

And that becomes the Penguins challenge–to avoid the second wild-card and wait for Malkin to get healthy. As Letang returns, the Penguins will find they have another weapon. In fact, Letang’s return will blend with the Penguins rush to simplify their game, especially without Malkin.

The reality is the Penguins will likely make the playoff but cannot win a Stanley Cup without Malkin who is out weeks, not months. Letang’s re-entry into the lineup will partially offset Malkin’s loss, too.

Now, if Phil Kessel were to get hot again or at least effort to mitigate some of the loss, the Penguins are still a dangerous team. The Penguins ridiculous depth is being tested and passing with flying colors.

You can predict the sky is falling. And someday you’ll be right. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a challenge, but not one they haven’t faced before and not one which is insurmountable. The last three weeks of winning hockey have provided them enough of a cushion to figure out what comes next.

Oh, and the team still has Sidney Crosby, whose Hart Trophy credentials figure to be burnished if the Penguins maintain their playoff form.

Relax. A little, anyway.

 

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Matt Schmidt
Matt Schmidt(@maschm)
2 years ago

Man, what is the line on Tampa in the first round? I feel like the odds of them losing are so low, I want to put a couple of bucks on it, just to see. Someone always stumbles in the first round, usually.

Skippy
Skippy
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Schmidt

Tampa is stacked and so deep everywhere. Still, history suggests they are ripe to be taken out early.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Skippy

I don’t see why Tampa is a lock either. All it takes is one goalie to stumble and any team can lose. Sure they are deep as hell and would like it stomp Carolina, or Montreal. But Pittsburgh could take them out if Murray won the goaltending battle and we were healthy. I also think Bobrovsky could steal that series and the Jackets could surprise a lot of people for a round or two. They loaded up and have enough experience.

Del Scott
Del Scott(@del-s-in-sav-ga)
2 years ago

I think Dan’s point, when he said no 8 seed is going to beat TB, is that if the Pens fall to 8th, it will be becasue of injuries and they will be in no way equipped to beat a team that just put together one of the greatest regular season s ever.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Del Scott

Oh, maybe I missed that. Can you imagine the fear we would strike in the other 7 remaining teams in the second round if we took out Tampa!

Edgar
Edgar(@edgar)
2 years ago

I don’t think there’s any panic regarding the playoffs. Considering they have 2 left against the Rangers and the Wings I expect them to get in without too much fuss. How far they go is the question mark. I don’t think far regardless of who they play. But, hopefully, I’m wrong about that.

Matt Luda
Matt Luda
2 years ago

Think Big Picture, people. Doesn’t matter if the Pens make the playoffs. It’s mid-March and they have the same problems as last week, last month and last year. Said it before and I’ll say it again — this is not a Cup winner. Kessel and Malkin are way past their primes. That and their contracts make them major liabilities. Kessel was a primary reason why they didn’t advance last postseason. GMJR should have moved him then. Now he’s a year older and has that much less trade value. The new guys are above average at best, not difference-makers. Meanwhile, this… Read more »

Darksealer1995
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Luda

Everything you have said is factually wrong and incorrect in everyway possible. Go back to ur flyers blog u bandwagon fan/troll.

Matt Luda
Matt Luda
2 years ago

Stop drinking the black-and-gold Kool-Aid, bra. It’s bad for your brain.

pittaz
pittaz
2 years ago

The PG keeps saying the Pens could be dangerous in the playoffs. I don’t see any team that would be afraid of them. The Pens can’t put 4 games together to win any series.

Edgar
Edgar(@edgar)
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I agree the Pens will be a tough out. But who won’t? Maybe CBJ, and if they get their act together they could be as well. I’ts doubtful Carolina will roll over easily, and the Isles could very well frustrate anyone.
Eventually the Pens bottom defenseman will cost them. But I’ve said that in their cup years as well, so….

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