The Pittsburgh Penguins Are Okay

When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to their opponents by a collective score of 7 to 1 in this past weekend’s tilts against the Boston Bruins (2-0) and the Detroit Red Wings (5-1), fans on Twitter, reddit, and Facebook, along with their media counterparts, immediately sounded the alarm.  Further, the surprising last-minute scratch of Sidney Crosby and early injury to Evgeni Malkin in Saturday night’s tilt against Bruins left many Penguin faithful on edge. A collective clenching of the muscles and gnashing of the teeth was palpable as concerned onlookers began to ask whether the Penguins are destined for another early exit from the playoffs.

Mar 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) scores against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) as Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (10) defends during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Detroit won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone can breathe easy. The Penguins are okay.

Before anyone reacts as if I am ignoring serious issues with the team’s recent performances, I am not.  I recognize that the Penguins have suffered from anemic offense, have had serious discipline and composure issues (you can read about Kris Letang’s ejection against the Red Wings here), and have once again been bitten by the injury bug (losing not just Malkin, but Patric Hornqvist as well).

However, these events, in and of themselves, do not doom the Penguins’ playoff hopes.  Here’s why. 

First, gone are the days under Dan Bylsma where the Penguins were expected to work themselves to the point of exhaustion for the number one seed.  This “strategy” resulted in a demonstrably tired team, lackluster performances, and early playoff departures for Penguins rosters stacked with talent.  Head Coach Mike Johnston has managed his team in a manner that will preserve it for the playoffs.

Second, General Manager Jim Rutherford has finally provided the Penguins with much-needed depth and playoff experience.  Although players like Daniel Winnik and Maxime Lapierre are still hitting their stride with their new team, they provide more stability for the Penguins’ bottom six and offer more than simple physical play.  Players are finding each other on the ice, it is just a matter of burying the biscuit.

Third, playoff hockey is different, plain and simple.  The Pittsburgh Penguins’ most recent playoff performances have been under a coach who was steadfast in his lineups and known for his unwillingness to make mid-game changes.  Coach Johnston been a welcome departure from Dan Bylsma’s rigidity.  Johnston has shown time and again that he is willing to mix things up to look for offense, seek out a reaction from his players, and provide a spark. 

Fourth, the remainder of the Penguins’ schedule is not very strong.  With the exception of the Penguins upcoming game against the St. Louis Blues on March 24th, the Penguins have no remaining games against playoff teams. The San Jose Sharks currently have 75 points and are currently five points out of playoff contention; they are they closest to a second playoff caliber opponent the Penguins have to look forward to for the remainder of their regular season.

The Penguins are going to get healthy.  They are going to get their composure.  Recently added players are beginning to develop chemistry with their new teammates just as the playoffs are about begin.  When you add to these progressions a coach who is willing to make chess moves with his players, the Penguins have as good a shot as any team to raise the Stanley Cup.