Pittsburgh Penguins Inconsistency May Lead to Early Round Playoff Exit

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Matt Murray
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Matt Murray /

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been inconsistent most of the season. That alone may doom them to an early round exit from this year’s playoffs.

Inconsistent Offense

It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins started the season slow, and seemed disinterested ending 2017 (aside from this season’s consistency champ, Phil Kessel). Although the offense had ups and downs, a lot has been chalked up to the Penguins kind of ‘pacing themselves.’ Something like, “they know wins matter a lot more in April than they do in December.”

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 20: Josh Jooris
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 20: Josh Jooris /

Don’t get me wrong, I have been guilty of this thinking most of the year as well. And it’s a fair point to make, except for one nagging problem. This year’s Penguins are not blowing teams away. Not with any regularity, anyway. They have rarely displayed the kind of ‘unstoppable force’ that has been the recent Penguins trademark. Worse, they no longer seem like one of the fastest teams in the league. Speed has been the foundation on which they won the last two Stanley Cups.

Inconsistent Defense

As much as I would like to blame Kris Letang for every defensive lapse, there is plenty of blame to go around here. There have been plenty of turnovers and weak play by D-men in our own zone. The loss of Ian Cole has hurt as well, since Jamie Oleksiak (and maybe Brian Dumoulin on a good night) is the closest we have to a true shutdown D-guy now. He also happens to be the only muscle we have to drop gloves now that Ryan Reaves was traded away. I am not happy about that trade, but that’s a conversation for another day.

In addition, the forwards are not back-checking with the ferocity of past seasons. That’s a big (but correctable) problem.

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 20: Matt Murray

Some may blame Matt Murray for a having a down season, and it’s somewhat true, especially in the area of rebound control. In that critical area, he has become downright pedestrian, where once he held a lofty perch.

It is still true that defense wins Championships, and right now, the Penguins don’t have much.

Inconsistent Special Teams

Not much to say here. The PP is number one in the league at the time of this writing. However, an almost record-breaking stretch was sandwiched between lengthy stretches of sub-par play. I think it’s safe to say the PK was one of our strengths the last two years, but it now seems like a downright liability. Shot blocking is down (players are probably tired of being injured blocking shots).

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins /

Pittsburgh Penguins

The single biggest problem with the PK has been the inability of the goalies to absorb shots and get the faceoff. Rebounds from PP shots have a much higher chance of being recovered by the shooting team, and that quickly leaves you pinned in the zone for long stretches. And that, as everyone knows, leads to goals against.

Inconsistent Outcomes

Given all the inconsistency mentioned above, it’s no surprise that the Penguins have lost some games in embarrassing fashion. Lost to some basement dwellers too. It was painful for me to watch, so I know if was not pleasant for the players either.

It is not all gloom and doom here. The Pens are still near the top of the Metro Division, and Evgeni Malkin has had a great second half of the season. The team is also rounding into form health-wise, and might be pretty healthy and deep when the payoffs start. And that’s a VERY good thing.

So What’s the Big Deal?

The main thing troubling me, is that a team that doesn’t look hungry most of the time, is probably not hungry enough to fight through the slog that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The guys that do that are desperate to win, on almost every shift. The way the Penguins were last year. And the year before. But this year? Not so much.

I hope I am wrong and the Pens flip the switch come playoff time and blaze a trail to a third straight Stanley Cup. I will gladly eat a platter of crow for that. But right now, I am Han Solo. I have a bad feeling about this.