Business as Usual for the Pittsburgh Penguins


Any concerns that there were about the Pittsburgh Penguins became quite evident this weekend after a pair of games against divisional opponents. The Pens traveled to Long Island to face the New York Islanders with the top spot of the Metropolitan Division on the line. Two days later, they welcomed the red-hot New York Rangers to town for a matinee matchup. These games represented an early litmus test that provided us with a glimpse of how far the Pens have come as a team, and how much further they need to progress during the second half of the year. 

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After two sub-par performances that resulted in losses, it is evident that this Penguins team has some major flaws to sort out over the last thirty-eight games. Many may find this concerning, but if you think about it, this season is progressing according to Mike Johnston’s plan. Things may be advancing slowly, but this it hasn’t gone completely off the rails.

The fact that the Pens have some wrinkles to iron out should be a surprise no one when considering the circumstances surrounding this team. Trying to learn and perfect a new system is nearly impossible when dealing with bizarre injuries and medical issues like the Penguins have over the past three months.

It was evident of how effective a Johnston coached Penguins team could be prior to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins moving to Pittsburgh. They were running away with the division until they were forced to dress an AHL roster. Even with a depleted lineup, the Pens managed to stay competitive and more importantly, avoided jeopardizing their positioning for playoff seeding.

“The bottom-line expectation for me is that from training camp to the first part of the season and throughout, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs.” – Mike Johnston

Building the Penguins into a formidable team when then playoffs begin has been part of Johnston’s plan since he arrived in Pittsburgh. “The bottom-line expectation for me is that from training camp to the first part of the season and throughout, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs,” the coach told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June.

Don’t kid yourself with the belief that Johnston expected things to go perfectly all year. We all know too well that each hockey season isn’t without twists and turns. The Penguins have had to battle through adversity for most of this year’s campaign. Now they they must put this stretch of inconsistent hockey behind them. The injuries have thwarted their development as a hockey team under the new Mike Johnston system, but there is no use dwelling on it any longer.

If you take a look at the standings, you will notice the teams in playoff position are improving. The Penguins are going have to do the same and it starts by playing consistent hockey. They are no longer going to skate away with the division as many have thought was possible at the beginning of the year. All is not lost however, and it looks like the Penguins are finally starting to get some bounces going their way.

Even when considering the results from the two games over the weekend, things are trending upwards for this hockey team. The health of their players is starting to cooperate, and when all of the regulars return, the Penguins will have depth and versatility at their disposal.

David Perron

(39) against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period at the Consol Energy Center. Canadiens defeated the Penguins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O” width=”300″ height=”210″ /> Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing David Perron (39) against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period at the Consol Energy Center. Canadiens defeated the Penguins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

General Manager Jim Rutherford has been busy in providing the personnel to ensure that his roster will carry these attributes. By acquiring David Perron via trade from the Edmonton Oilers and claiming Mark Acrobello off of waivers from the Nashville Predators, he has added depth in two important areas. Perron solidifies the top six and Arcobello, who can line up at center or either wing, adds versatility to the bottom two lines.

Perron has contributed seven points (5G-2A) in five games with the Penguins. He and Sidney Crosby are developing chemistry and Perron will be a key player on the power play because of his right-hand shot. He will continue to provide chances from the left side of the ice on the man advantage, much like he did Friday night on Long Island.

The entirety of this team’s success is directly correlated with how well their two superstars are playing. Evgeni Malkin has spent the majority of the time progressing into a player looking like he will be a Hart Trophy finalist. Sidney Crosby on the other hand, was suffering from a bit of a scoring slump, but has now scored four goals in his last four games. With both Malkin and Crosby within striking distance of the league’s leading scorer Jakub Voracek, it seems as if both are poised to lead their team as this season moves along.

The remaining thirty-eight games are going to be a roller coaster. The old cliché of a hockey season containing highs and lows will be quite evident. The Penguins will have to get back to playing sixty minutes of consistent hockey, because their quality of competition will increase. Almost half of the remaining games will feature teams that will at least have a legitimate chance of qualifying for the playoffs, and there are two Western Conference road trips to look forward to.

After watching the past five seasons of playoff failure, we should welcome and enjoy the Penguins running the gauntlet all the way into April. They will be tested often and they need to be in order to find out what type of team they are. Everything they go through will just be another building block towards becoming a stronger hockey team.

This weekend’s games were just part of that process, and the results should be no cause for concern. With plenty of time remaining in the regular season the Penguins will carry on business as usual as they look to become the team that Mike Johnston envisioned back in June. However, the pressure will only continue to build at this point, and the window to improve as a collective group will begin to close.

If this year’s version of the Pittsburgh Penguins continues their inconsistent trends, business as usual will only get them left behind.