April 20, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period in game five of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals at CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Where Do The Penguins Go From Here?

It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t supposed to be eliminated in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.  Many experts picked the Penguins to be a contender for the Stanley Cup.  Instead, the Penguins are now on an early vacation, having been eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

The Penguins looked to have the series in hand with a 3-0 lead in Game One.  But a collapse defensively allowed the Flyers back in it, and they walked away with a 4-3 Game One win.  By the time the Penguins finally found their legs, the series was 3-0 in favor of the Flyers.  Despite a 10-3 and 3-2 win in Games Four and Five, no one really expected the Penguins to rally.  They went quietly in Game 6, with a 5-1 trouncing.

The case could be made for sweeping changes within the Pittsburgh organization.  Since winning the Cup in 2009, the Penguins have not made it past the second round in three successive playoffs.  The main core of players has remained the same throughout those three years.  Centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal have remained the mainstays down the middle.  Marc-Andre Fleury, who will have a lot of soul-searching to do after his shaky play in the series against the Flyers, has remained the Penguins’ number one goaltender.  Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik have been the two main defenders for Pittsburgh.  General Manager Ray Shero has done a lot of tinkering to keep the Penguins competitive in this salary cap era, but now many are expecting some form of change this offseason.

Many Penguin fans may expect the changes, but are drastic changes really needed?  After all, this is a core of players that is the envy of most NHL general managers.  Crosby will only benefit from the early exit, as he will have plenty of time to fully recover from the head and neck injuries.  He is expected to come back stronger than ever.  Malkin is the reigning Art Ross trophy winner, as he won the 2011-12 scoring title.  He’s also in the running for the Hart trophy.  Staal is considered one of the best two-way centers in the game.  The only question mark will be whether or not the Penguins can work the salary cap well enough to keep all three.

The biggest question mark is in goal.  Fleury did not rise to any occasion during the six game series.  He showed flashes of brilliance in Game Five, but never played well enough realistically for the Penguins to mount any sustained pressure in any of the four losses to the Flyers.  The most pressing question will be whether or not this was a blip on the radar, or a sign that Fleury is not a number one goaltender.  Fleury has been either hot or cold for the Penguins the past few seasons.  He bore no resemblance to the goalie who won 42 games in the regular season.  Do the Penguins keep him?  Can they afford another horrible outing like he gave them this spring?  Or do the Penguins give him another chance?  One cannot just dismiss the fact he is a 42-game winner.  One also cannot ignore the fact that when the Penguins needed him the most, he didn’t get the job done against the Flyers.

It’s too soon to decide what kind of changes need to be made within the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It’s important not to make any changes based on emotion.  This core on paper is strong enough to compete with any team.  Management must decide if this was a one-time outing where nothing worked, or a sign that this current roster just can’t get it done.  However, these decisions must be weighed against the background of common sense.  No one in the Penguins’ management team wants to be known as the one to trade a Malkin or Orpik, only to have the trade weaken the club.  When those players are gone, they are gone.  It isn’t an EA Sports game where you can reverse the trade if it doesn’t pan out.

For now, trust the likes of Ray Shero to evaluate properly, make the appropriate changes, and make decisions based on what will benefit the Pittsburgh Penguins, not what will satisfy the panicked masses.

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Tags: Crosby Fleury Malkin Nhl Penguins Staal

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