Pittsburgh Penguins Headed For An Early Playoff Exit


The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the midst of another slump and last night might have been rock bottom for the talented squad. In Carolina, the Hurricanes came out fast and the visiting Penguins had no answer for them. To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins were forced to be play physically shorthanded the entire contest.

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Due to injuries to key players Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Christian Ehrhoff, the Pittsburgh Penguins lacked the salary cap space to recall a single player from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

This adversity could come back to benefit the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs if they can regain a healthy lineup.

However, to say this season has been anything but a roller-coaster is a flat out lie. The first two months of the season the Pittsburgh Penguins were an unstoppable juggernaut, capable of destroying any team they played.

However, as (the usual) injury woes appeared, the Penguins faltered. Whether this was a lack of proper personnel, poor coaching or important players failing to step up, we might never know. Throughout the rest of the season the Pittsburgh Penguins have been an up-and-down team, sometimes they look dominant, other times they are destroyed by horrid teams.

Oct 9, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) and right wing Pascal Dupuis (9) celebrate a goal by Dupuis against the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you want about missing Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta for most of the season or Evgeni Malkin and other stars missing extended periods of time, it is no excuse.

As much as I disliked Dan Bylsma by the end of his tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins, this would never happen under his watch. He guided a team that lacked Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the eastern conference quarter finals where they lost 3-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

If that is not great coaching, I do not know what is because the Pittsburgh Penguins that season were clearly a much weaker team than this season, even sans Malkin, Hornqvist and Ehrhoff.

Pittsburgh Penguin insider Dejan Kovacevic had this to say about head coach Mike Johnston.

“There’s absolutely nothing to be said at this stage about Mike Johnston’s future. Everything about these Penguins, as has been true from the outset, will be weighed after playoffs” Kovacevic begrudgingly wrote. 

“there’s a very good chance the head coach is getting increasingly isolated” – Dejan Kovacevic

From all reports, Mike Johnston is slowly losing the locker room and “there’s a very good chance the head coach is getting increasingly isolated.”

This is highly concerning for a Pittsburgh Penguin team that is riddled with talent at nearly every position and is heading rapidly towards the playoffs.

I wish I had an answer for what is going on with the Penguins right now, but I do not. For much of the season I thought Johnston had done a good job with the circumstances. However, I am starting to question the faith I put in his coaching and leadership abilities.

Unless the Pittsburgh Penguins can find a way to rally and drastically correct their recent play, it will be another early playoff exit for the Pens.

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The talent is there, the roster is (mostly) intact and key players are locked up. If Mike Johnston cannot put everything together, it is fair to wonder how long ownership will stick with him.

Yes, being a rookie head coach in the NHL is a daunting task, especially with an experienced, proven and capable team like the Pittsburgh Penguins. But with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang being in the prime of their careers and pushing towards their late twenties, the time is now.

Mike Johnston needs to rally his team and make a strong playoff run if he wants to come back next season.

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