Kingerski: Unacceptable. Penguins Failure & Mediocrity Must be Dealt With
The Pittsburgh Penguins did not and do not deserve to make the playoffs. The beautiful thing about pro sports is the meritocracy. Teams are what their record and their results show they are. On Tuesday, the Penguins reminded us loudly and clearly where they stand.
Their season was in front of them, and opportunity was gifted to them. They merely had to beat the two worst teams in the NHL to punch their ticket back to the NHL playoffs. Instead, they lost to the pathetic Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on home ice at PPG Paints Arena.
They blew it.
And the pungent winds of mediocrity, which have swirled around them all season, blew through the doors at PPG Paints Arena with the gusto of a heavy storm. There is no more denying it or escaping it.
The Penguins have fallen into disrepair and mediocrity.
As they’ve done for so much of the 2022-23 NHL season, the Penguins had a slow start, failed to capitalize on chances, made crucial mistakes at crucial times, didn’t do all that was necessary to get between the dots in part because they lack the ability, and were outscored in the third period.
For insult to injury, a soft goal sealed their fate when Tristan Jarry misplayed a shot from behind the goal line. That made it 3-1. Game. Set. Match. Season.
Why should the Penguins be any different in Game 81 than they were for the first 80?
The problems, inadequacies, and failures at all levels of the organization, from the ice to management, must be dealt with.
Last summer, the Penguins made a commitment to stalwarts Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The three core players are contracted to be around for at least two more seasons. Crosby’s contract is the first to expire and will do so after the 2024-25 season.
Malkin is signed for three more years. Letang for five more.
Tuesday, Crosby had eight shots on goal. The captain has 91 points this season. There’s no blame there. There’s no blame on the handful of players who brought their best for the entirety of the season.
However, the Penguins as a team displayed a startling lack of heart and determination all season.
After this failure, disassembling the core cannot be ruled out. A simple question must be posed to those great players who had great seasons: Do you have the heart and energy to start over with a dramatically new team?
“I think we tried hard. We tried everything. I tried to play hard every night,” said Malkin after the game. “But the league is young. A new generation is coming.”
That’s a stinging indictment of the Penguins’ roster.
So the question is essential because a new team around them is what is needed unless the organization is OK with reveling in the enveloping mediocrity.
GM Ron Hextall?
Things are not working. Significant changes are absolutely necessary.
Serious and intense questions must be asked of Hextall from those above. His status should not be secure.
It’s not only that the Penguins blew one game against the worst team in the league; it’s that they’ve blown it against the worst teams in the league all season. They’ve blown nine third period leads and put themselves in a bad position with a subpar surrounding roster and a minor league team that remains bereft of talent two years into Hextall’s tenure.
There is plenty of blame for Hextall, who assembled a tired, old team without nearly enough spirit, discipline, or speed. That was obvious months ago.
“I think we’ve shown against really good opponents that we can play. Put us in a game, and we play really well,” Letang said. “And we have chances against teams that are not necessarily in a playoff spot, or kind of have nothing to lose and we don’t bring the same kind of demeanor, or we don’t play for 60 minutes.”
It’s not that the Penguins’ age made them old. The lack of desperation in an aged locker room made them look even older. As Letang admitted, they didn’t get up for far too many games. That, too, was obvious months ago. With respect to Granlund, he, Dmitry Kulikov, and Nick Bonino were not exactly locker room-changing breaths of fresh air.
They were more stale winds that only wore the stench of growing mediocrity.
In February, Hextall said he liked his team on paper. Unfortunately, it seems he didn’t look beyond the paper nearly enough. The roster surrounding the Penguins’ core has been entirely inadequate for months. Low-scoring forwards were shipped out, and an equally low-scoring forward with a much bigger paycheck arrived.
Mikael Granlund has five points, including just one goal, in 20 games since being acquired at the NHL trade deadline.
And yet, despite their laundry list of shortcomings, the Penguins still had a playoff berth in the palm of their hand.
And, like so many games this season, they failed.
Second verse same as the first.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have not won a playoff series since 2018.
Now, they’re very likely to miss the playoffs entirely. They need an unlikely regulation loss the New York Islanders in the season’s final game, while the Penguins must beat the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Correction: The Florida Panthers clinched a playoff berth, and their result Thursday will be irrelevant to the Penguins.
Hey, can’t lose a first-round series if you don’t make it, right?
Mediocrity multiplies much faster than success. It’s easier, but it should be unacceptable to those who lead the locker room and especially those who sign the checks.