The Pittsburgh Penguins should be getting comfortable on their couches by now as their season is over due to the great play of the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts have actually eliminated the Pens two seasons in a row and have shutdown what was known as an offensive juggernaut.
Last postseason, New York and Pittsburgh played seven games together and the Pens only managed to score 14 goals in that series. This playoff run, the Penguins only were able to score eight times in five games.
When you total everything up, the Pens have averaged 1.83 goals per game in their last 12 playoff contests. That simply is not enough to move out of the first round, but the trend is concerning. Not just the few goals scored against New York, but the Penguins’ consistent issues when facing talented teams.
Let’s go back to the 2012-2013 season when Pittsburgh loaded up at the trade deadline and acquired Douglas Murray, Brendan Morrow and Jarome Iginla. While it was a talented squad, the same problems arose.
The Pens played the New York Islanders in the first round. The Isles were a deep team, and Pittsburgh struggled and were forced to win in six games with two wins coming in overtime. The next round the Penguins faced the Ottawa Senators, a team very few expected to be able to compete with Pittsburgh. The series only lasted five games and the Penguins moved on.
Then the Penguins arrived at the Eastern Conference Final and were faced with the daunting task of taking down the Boston Bruins. The rest is history. The Pens put up very little fight and were swept in four games, scoring all of two goals in the series.
Don’t worry, the 2012-2013 season was a fluke. Sidney Crosby was battling an injured wrist and many assumed the next playoff run would be better. The Penguins (in usual fashion) finished atop the Metropolitan division and were hopeful for the 2013-14 postseason.
The Penguins ended up facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. Except, unlike this season, Columbus was healthy and a formidable opponent. Pittsburgh struggled once again and every contest in the series was a one-goal game, except Game 5 where Pittsburgh won 3-1. However, the Pens survived and advanced to face the Rangers and we already know how that turned out.
After a string of disappointing seasons, changes were expected. GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma were fired and their replacements were Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston.
But changes did not stop at the organizational level and many players did not return. Gone are Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Lee Stempniak, James Neal, Tanner Glass and Jussi Jokinen.
Their replacements were Nick Spaling, Patric Hornqvist, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie and Christian Ehrhoff.
There was a lot of positive energy heading into 2014-15, and fans and pundits were anticipating another run at the Stanley Cup. However, 82 games later the Penguins are in the exact same position as they were last season, except their regular season play was abysmal.
After a hot 10-3 record coming out of the gate, the Penguins finished the year with a record of 33-36. Furthermore they had to win their very last game of the season over the Buffalo Sabres just to make the postseason, and they barely managed that.
Blame injuries, blame coaching or whoever you want, but the trend has continued. The only thing constant has been the core players and usual veterans.
Something has to change if the Penguins want to win a Stanley cup. Critics of Neal cited his playoff “disappearances” as a reason for his departure. t
This year with the Nashville Predators he had four goals in six playoff games. Jokinen was always thought to have been a beneficiary of playing with Malkin, and he was to some extent. However, look at his most recent season with the Florida Panthers: 81 games played 44 points. His last year with Pittsburgh, 81 games played and 57 points.
Are the Penguins really better off without Neal, Jokinen, Orpik and Niskanen? It doesn’t seem like it, but they were forced to let these players leave/trade them because of a history of giving poor contracts.
Rutherford said today in his season closing press conference that he has been given clearance from ownership to use buyouts. It’s time they start using them and build a Cup contender, instead of a playoff pretender.