The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup three times in the Sidney Crosby–Evgeni Malkin era, which is a lot. The last few years, though, are starting to make Penguins fans wonder if some of their years are being wasted. It’s a fair question, as the last three years have been ugly for the team. They were swept, losing to a team only there thanks to a pandemic. Now they lose in the first round with high expectations. Brian Burke and Ron Hextall became organization heads during the season, and they have their work cut out for them.
By the Numbers
Record: 37-16-3 (77 points)
Power play: 23.7 percent (4th)
Penalty kill: 77.4 percent (27th)
Goals for: 196
Goals Against: 156
Another year and Crosby is once again the best player on the Penguins. He had less competition with Malkin being banged-up for most of the year, but Crosby was great. He led them in goals and points again, scoring 24 times and totaling 62 points in 55 games. However, just like in 2019 against the Islanders, Crosby went quiet in the first round versus New York. A few years ago, he had just an assist in four games. This year? A goal and an assist in six. He was far from the reason that they lost, but Crosby’s postseason overshadows another fantastic regular season.
The Penguins decided to move on from two-time Cup champion Matt Murray in the offseason after his backup, Tristan Jarry, got a Hart vote as an all-star caliber backup. Jarry started terribly in his first year as a starter and got better as the season went on. Still, his .909 save percentage and 2.75 GAA were well below the standard. Where everyone will remember Jarry’s season is in the six games against the Islanders. The Penguins were overall the better team, but Jarry was awful. He had a tape-to-tape pass to New York’s Josh Bailey for an overtime winner in Game 5, and his overall save percentage was .888. He has made management think about a change for next year.
Behind the Bench Analysis
Mike Sullivan is a good Head Coach, and he helped turn the Penguins around into back-to-back champions years ago. That said, his stubbornness in the postseason was confusing. He refused to shake things up when the team clearly needed a push after they appeared deflated by losing games that they should have won. Making line changes is included in this, but the goaltending issue is another story. Backup Casey DeSmith was unavailable to him, but could third goalie Maxime Lagace really be that much worse? He only had one appearance in the regular season, but it was a shutout. Sullivan only gets a B to C grade on the year.
Front Office Analysis
Hextall and Burke are new to the organization after Jim Rutherford unexpectedly resigned early on in the year. So, they can’t be blamed for the team’s construction. They made one big trade, and it was to acquire Jeff Carter at the deadline, and he was by far the team’s best player, scoring 13 goals in 20 games, including the playoffs. With Malkin and Kris Letang‘s future in limbo, plus goaltending being an issue, this offseason may define their tenure.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Picks/Prognosis
The Penguins do not have a first-round pick in this year’s draft after trading it to the Wild a season ago for Jason Zucker, who also could go in the “Biggest Disappointment” category. They also don’t have a third-round pick for acquiring veteran Patrick Marleau last year. Their fourth round pick went to Arizona in the Phil Kessel trade, and their sixth went to Edmonton years ago for a college free agent named John Marino, who has been great for the team. They do have second, fifth, and three seventh-round picks, both extras acquired in minor deals. Still, it looks like another light class for the Penguins.
Offseason Wishlist/Checklist and Prognosis
The only pending UFAs who were regulars come playoff time are Frederick Gaudreau and Cody Ceci, both players the team would like back in a depth role. But the next offseason is a big one. Malkin, Letang, Carter, DeSmith, and Bryan Rust are all going to be UFAs. Rust is the one the team needs to focus on extending. To free up cap space, they should explore a Zucker trade. He has two years left with a $5.5 million cap hit. Finally, the goaltending decision is a big one. Hextall knows goalies, but can he make the right decision? Only time will tell.
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