As the 2018-2019 NHL regular season winds to a close, it’s worth pausing and taking a look back at some of the things from that season that may have skipped your mind. From injuries, to trades, to streaks, this season has provided the Penguins with their fair share of ups and downs.
1) Sheary and Hunwick Traded to Buffalo
In the opening frames of the offseason for the Penguins, there was a calamity among fans that something needed to be done in the wake of the team’s less-than-stellar effort in the loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in the second round. To fans it was clear that there was some dead weight on the team. Players that weren’t contributing, but taking up space both on the roster and on the salary cap.
Two of the players singled out were forward Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick. Both players were traded to the Buffalo Sabres for draft picks, temporarily delighting most Penguins fans until the rumors started to spread about how the Penguins might use that newly freed-up cap space.
2) Matt Murray’s Early-Season Concussion
This offseason, the Penguins wanted to hit the reset button and work on correcting many of the issues that plagued them throughout the last playoffs. Whether Matt Murray could return to his true form and be one of the most consistent goaltenders league-wide? Fate had other plans. Early in the season, Murray was diagnosed with a concussion, his third of his career.
Without knowing what to expect, the Penguins geared up to press through the season backed by goalies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. After only two weeks, Matt Murray was cleared for action and returned to the net. While it would take time for Murray to get his groove back, he ended the season playing the strongest he has at any point throughout his regular season career.
3) Penguins win streak snapped by Chicago
The Penguins were rolling. Netting eight wins in a row, the hot Penguins were ready to take on one of the worst teams in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks. All signs pointed to the Penguins walking away with 2 points and continuing their win streak, but the Blackhawks wouldn’t allow it. Stretching their streak to ten straight wins against the Penguins, the Blackhawks broke a tied-game late to secure the victory.
4) Penguins out of playoff race
The loss to the Blackhawks may have capped the Penguins winning streak at eight, but much worse, it seemed to sap any momentum the team had gained entering the new year. From that point, through March, the Penguins were a team of questions. One game they would look like the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion team that could walk all over any team in the league, while other games looked more akin to a pee-wee versus major league matchup. The Penguins bounced between beating the eventual-President’s Trophy winning Lightning, to getting their clocks cleaned by the Kings, Devils, and Sharks, among others.
Towards the end of February, things were looking grim for the Penguins, finding themselves closer to a draft lottery ball than a playoff spot. Bouncing between wild card spots and the 9th/10th spots in the East, the team eventually got their act together and put forward consistent efforts to move them not only into a playoff spot, but the top three of the Metropolitan Division.
5) Justin Schultz missing over half the season
In his 5th game back from an injury, defenseman Justin Schultz was thrown back into the fire when the Penguins top-pairing of Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin both went down on the same play in the Stadium Series matchup against the Flyers. In early October, in the fourth game of the season, Justin Schultz went down awkwardly. We would later come to learn that he fractured his left leg and would go on to miss 53 games.
The Penguins, in order to try and find some chemistry on the backend, rotated a motley crew of players, hoping to find something that worked.