It seems at this point that something must be wrong with the Penguins. They’re on the outside looking in at the playoffs and the Metropolitan is the toughest division in the NHL. Crosby’s come unglued. Murray is bad. And Letang should be traded. Right? Well..not so fast.
Let’s get something straight here. This is not absolving them of the head-scratching add of Reaves or the equally head-scratching lack of addressing of the center depth this offseason. Neither made sense. While Sheahan has grown into his role nicely with the Penguins it can be argued the move was made as a panic-stricken swap when the team realized it done goofed by not replacing Bonino. The Niemi add was a fiasco and Murray has battled injuries and some average play making it seem like losing Fleury in the expansion draft was a travesty of epic proportions. Is anyone really sure what’s going on with Hunwick? And that completely ignores the fact they still really should add another center before the trade deadline to sure them up down the middle.
Oh, and the injuries are back – pillaging the roster like Blackbeard storming Queen Anne’s Revenge in 1717. The teams best two games lately, December 27th against the Blue Jackets and January 2nd at the Flyers both saw not one, not two, but three injuries. It’s like they’re playing some demented game of this or that lately. You can either start and end the game with the same number of healthy players or win – you pick. But you can’t have both.
So…other than ramble around in circles…what do we do? What should the team do to address their issues? Because I’ve seen plenty of people ready to point fingers but no one ready to put the thought in to fix it. So here goes…
First of all, they need fresh bodies. I don’t mean guys in fresh spots in the line-up. I mean actual fresh people. Mike Darnay recently pointed out that this Penguins team has played an extra 50 games over the last two years. Add to that games for the World Cup for Crosby and Malkin that’s almost an entire season. And don’t even get me started on Carl Hagelin. Think he looks exhausted? That’s because he is…the guy has played more games since 2014 than anyone else. He’s played 83 playoff games in that time. The equivalent of a fifth season…and that doesn’t include the Olympics or World Cup. Of course, he’s starting to run out of gas. The addition of Sprong, Sheahan and Oleksiak help but they need at least one more player (a center) probably two to help give the tired guys a little boost.
Secondly, the whole team could use a heaping helping of patience. Kris Letang having a down year? Well, you have your neck bolted back together and tell me how you feel on a timeline that saw him returning two months before I would have thought he’d even begin skating. Sidney Crosby’s struggling? Well maybe playing revolving linemates isn’t the best for anyone. Matt Murray “struggling”? He’s lucky that collision with Voracek didn’t entirely blow his knee out so I’m going to be a little patient. I mean besides, the team’s got the youngest goalie tandem in the whole league two cups or no, there are going to be growing pains.
And the final key to fixing things for this team? It’s pure luck. The Penguins shouldn’t have won many of their games last Stanley Cup run and now they’re losing games they should be winning because of the opposite. It’s tough but there is a certain amount of wait it out that needs to be done. And the good news is they’ve got a heavily backloaded schedule with division games so they can still make up ground.
Oh, and a little something to cheer everyone at home up? They’re 7-3 against Metropolitan division foes. One, that means they’ve barely scratched the surface in the Metro (they haven’t even played the Devils yet this year) and that when they have played them, they’ve done so remarkably well.
So yes, there are issues this team needs to address (another center, please, GMJR) but there are other things where the process is right and if we just hang in there, things will likely work out (like Sidney Crosby’s massive slump).