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Penguins Blog: Time to Recall the Kids; Crosby Out of Gas?



Pittsburgh Penguins Sam Poulin

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2023-24 season went sideways a long time ago, and the team never truly got on track. Their shining example of potential was the eight-of-11 stretch following the Dec. 16 humiliating defeat against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And so it’s time to readjust the season and recoup some value from the wreckage.

It’s all ending. We’ve got to stop pretending.

The Penguins have just a 3.5% chance to make the playoffs, according to At this point, even if they won all of their remaining games, they’d finish with only 102 points. It’s a sad and unacceptable position.

In his pre-deadline media availability, Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas highlighted the core four, not the core three, and stated they would lead the Penguins to the next generation. He somewhat surprisingly listed Erik Karlsson in the core as one of the players who will shepherd the young players and teach the tradition of the Penguins and life in the NHL.

So, OK. When does the next generation arrive? Do we need to see what Jeff Carter or Joona Koppanen can do at the NHL level? We already know quite a bit about the veterans.

Teams are limited on the number of call-ups between now and the end of the regular season, and the Penguins have a veteran-heavy roster, but there’s still space to create opportunities for fresh faces and young blood.

A little vitality surely couldn’t hurt this sadsack bunch. First, there is a caveat. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are in a playoff position, and organizations typically want their teams in the postseason to gain added experience in a pressure situation. It’s also been a while since the WBS Penguins were in the playoffs, so the NHL club cannot and should not gut the WBS team all at once.

Oddly, the AHL playoff format this season will include 23 of their 32 teams.

However, the first order of business should be to recall 2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin, if only for a week or two. The Penguins have plenty of games coming up, as the March schedule is a non-stop thrill ride of bruising games to come. There are a few players who could go the other way, including Jonathan Gruden, who has played with some energy but has a low ceiling,

I still have questions about whether Poulin can skate well enough for the NHL game, but he’s playing well at the AHL level, he’s sound defensively, and he can play heavy, too. In 30 games, Poulin has 24 points and scored 12 goals. He’s also a plus-8.

After a mentally recuperative year in 2022-23 and injuries this season, Poulin is going to be ready soon or not at all. With 19 games remaining, what are the Penguins waiting for?

Vasily Ponomarev will turn 22 on Wednesday. He made his NHL debut with the Carolina Hurricanes, getting a two-game cup of coffee, which included a goal and an assist. Presumably, he wasn’t included in the Jake Guentzel trade by mistake or to be a hood ornament on the WBS Penguins bus.

Dubas said they would integrate Ponomarev into the Penguins system at the AHL level. After a few games, he should make his Pittsburgh Penguins debut.

Are the Penguins afraid of losing more 6-0, 6-1, 4-0, or even 2-0 games?

It would have been beneficial to bring up Joel Blomqvist as a third goalie, but after Dubas traded Magnus Hellberg to the Florida Panthers just before the deadline, the organization’s goalie depth isn’t stellar. Taylor Gauthier, who has played the bulk of his career with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, is currently the AHL backup.

It’s time to expose the Penguins’ prospects, at least the ones with NHL pedigrees, to the big show. If the existing troupe doesn’t take advantage of their time, perhaps some kids will learn a few things and spur greater development.

Sidney Crosby

I can’t help but wonder if this season, which has been bruising mentally and physically, has taken a toll on Sidney Crosby. Not since his rookie year in 2005-06 has a Penguins club been out of playoff contention this early.

He played all 82 games last year. He’s on pace to play them all this year.

I have a question–why? As we’ve watched Evgeni Malkin and Crosby play ALL of the games over the last two seasons, they’ve been out of gas at the end. Malkin’s problem perhaps goes deeper than exhaustion and cuts to being 37 years old with a lot of hockey on those skates.

However, Crosby has tried to will his team into the playoffs two seasons running. He’s carried this lethargic bunch forward for months. If the Penguins had made the playoffs, I was firmly in his camp for a Hart Trophy nomination. But he’s only human and the effects of a team on his back are showing.

He has just two assists in six games since the calendar turned to March.

My two cents is the NHL needs to adopt some of the NBA’s player preservation attitude. Sit down once in a while. Skip the second of a back-to-back, especially when one is on the road.

A better and deeper team could limit minutes, too. How often has Crosby played every other shift in the third period as the Penguins tried to mount a comeback?

The captain has given everything he’s got. Next season, the coach should limit what they ask and not be afraid to preserve him for the second half. If the team isn’t good enough, that’s on the GM, not the captain.