Pittsburgh Penguins: Thoughts on the 2017 Season

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 07: Members of the Pittsburgh Penguins acknowledge the crowd after a 2-1 overtime lose to the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 7, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 07: Members of the Pittsburgh Penguins acknowledge the crowd after a 2-1 overtime lose to the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 7, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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With the loss to the Washington Capitals, the 2017 season comes to an end for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here’s five thoughts on the past season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, before we take a look ahead.

I Hate Mondays

I hate the day after a Penguins loss. Any loss. Even a ‘meaningless’ regular season game in November. But after the season-ending loss to the Capitals in Game 6 (which I unfortunately attended), I am still trying to recover. I’ll let you know when I do. The part that bothers me the most is that this Penguins team *was* good. Maybe good enough to three-peat. Maybe. But their tank was empty at the end.

Give the Penguins credit. They played a lot of hockey over the last three years. Even with player turnover, injuries, and some holes in the lineup they gave it everything. That’s all any fan could want really – players giving 100% – and I think the Pens gave us that. Here are some things we learned over the course of this past season.

Pens are Human

There were many times over the last couple years where I watched the Pens in awe. I have used the term ‘buzzsaw’ in the past, and it’s appropriate. This season, it was pretty obvious some cylinders were mis-firing. Except for several weeks around New Year’s, when the old Pens were back and looking good. But overall it’s easy to see that this season was a grind. Phil Kessel was the strongest and most consistent player for most of the year, and even he sputtered to a standstill in the second round.

Defense Needed

The old adage that Defense Wins Championships is true. For most of the season, the Penguins played a bit recklessly. They mostly got away with it due to superior offensive talent, but once they faced a team that played determined disciplined defense, they had to buckle down. To their credit, they did. In the last few games of the playoffs, the Penguins showed the whole-team-defense approach that helped get them back-to-back championships. It almost turned things around against the Caps. Almost.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins /

Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney is Still Super

Seems like every year there is a conversation about whether Sidney Crosby is (still) the best player in hockey, or whether he is past his prime, or lost his edge. This season proved that Sidney Crosby is still the best player in the NHL. Period. Everyone knows it. Hardest working, elite reflexes, other-worldly hand-eye coordination. He has it all and didn’t miss a game this season. Elevated his game when needed, and brought baseball to the ice with several sick, unreal, batted pucks for goals. I think he may have another year or two left in him after all.

Players Matter

This is a no-brainer thought (ok, to be honest, most of mine are), but when the Pens lost a boatload of players from the back-to-back championship team, it hurt. Clearly, the bottom six this year did not provide as much balance as the Cup-winning teams. The way that really hurts you is not in points lost, but in minutes played. The extra scoring pressure placed on the top six is a burden. An extra burden this year’s team could not quite carry.

It wasn’t terrible. In fact, I believe if we had kept Ryan Reaves and Ian Cole we would have had bit more in the tank against the Capitals. Why? Because we would not have lost key players to cheap-shot injuries (you know what I am talking about), and we would have had at least three defenseman willing to actually play the body (here’s to you, Jamie Oleksiak and Brian Dumoulin).

I really hated the trade to get Brassard. It didn’t pay off, it hurt the Pens, and was out of character for a front office that should know better. Live and learn I hope.

Finally An Offseason

One of the only bright spots of losing in the second round is that the team will have a decent off-season for the first time in a few years. Players get a chance to rest and recover, both physically and mentally. I hope they enjoy the beach and/or the golf course (except Crosby, who is probably on the ice somewhere practicing right now) – they earned it.

I’m not ready to look forward to next year. Not yet. Soon maybe. When I am, I’ll share some thoughts I have about what the Pens need to do to make another serious run at the Cup next year. Until then, I have to find something on TV to watch other than hockey.