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Kingerski: Guess What, There is Hope for These Penguins



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis, Drew O'Connor

SEATTLE — Months, if not a few years, of nattering negativity and obstinate “I told you so’s” with each shortcoming that befalls the aging Pittsburgh Penguins have grown to a cacophony of cheers with each loss and begrudging credit for wins.

In a sense, it’s entirely understandable. The Penguins’ core and fans have endured the longest goodbye ever known in professional sports. Seven years ago, the team won the second of its back-to-back Cups and third as a core. Could you fathom back then that the trio would last until at least 2026, and two of them probably well beyond that?

If Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang play until 2029, when they’re 41, the 2017 Stanley Cup will be nothing more than the mid-point in their career. That’s a long, long time and a lot of water under the bridge. Even the great Montreal Canadiens were turned over twice by now.

No team, and by extension, no fanbase, in history has been together longer. There hasn’t been a new crop of players to excite new or younger fans. There haven’t been the sparks of renewal and optimism.

At least, that’s how I view the overwhelming dismissal or denigration of the Penguins playoff push.

There’s also fear of being let down when it seems quite likely.

Yes, stuck somewhere between contender and irrelevant, the pendulum of the Penguins’ fate has swung for a few years, never reaching the full potential of either.

According to, the Penguins still have less than a 50% shot of making the NHL playoffs, but that remains the organization’s goal: just get to the dance and see what happens.

More specifically, the goal is to get Sidney Crosby to the dance and see what happens. That’s his reward for bleeding for the franchise at below-market value for 19 seasons and for carrying this team on his stocky shoulders, even at 36 years old.

No, the Penguins are probably not Stanley Cup contenders, but that seems a high bar by which to judge a team. By that standard, everyone in the Eastern Conference but the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and perhaps the New York Rangers should be sellers and fire their coach.

I do not have a crystal ball or psychic powers, so I cannot promise the Penguins will make the playoffs. I can’t even predict if they will build on the hard-fought win over the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night.

However, I suspect Erik Karlsson recognizes the dire straights of the team, especially of the injury-decimated forwards; he will supplant the lack of offensive pop with more puck possession and aggressive offensive zone play. You can bet Tristan Jarry is enjoying his season far more than the last, and that chip on his shoulder to show he can win big games will grow.

I suspect Valtteri Puustinen and Drew O’Connor will keep each other honest and pull Evgeni Malkin into the best game he has left.

I also suppose that Ryan Graves and Chad Ruhdwedel will be a problematic third pair until something changes. The fourth line will continue to be responsible but offensively inept.

What I know is that after giving up the last of their margin for error and having a GM ready to pull the ripcord on the season, the team has won three in a row. They again control their playoff destiny because if they win all or even most of their games in hand, they’re in, either third place in the Metro Division or the wild card.

You might bet against some or much of the Penguins lineup, but will you bet against Crosby? He’s scored 32 goals in 56 games, and there are only signs of more to come.

It’s OK. You can start to be just a little bit optimistic. You can believe they will make the playoffs, even at the risk of crushing disappointment. That’s the fun part about sports.

Hey, you can always say, “I told you so,” regardless of the outcome.