Year in and year out, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not only one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but they are also one of the best teams in the entire league.
The team usually comes into every season as a Cup contender. It’s easy to see why considering that they won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 and also because of the roster the unbelievably potent roster they have.
This season has been a much different story for the black and gold. As of this writing, the Penguins are in the first Wild Card spot in the East with 79 points, which certainly is not bad, but is a position that the team is not used to being in at this point in the season.
To make matters dicey, the Montreal Canadiens also have 79 points and are currently in the second Wild Card spot. The Columbus Blue Jackets are hot on both of their tails as they currently have 77 points.
The Penguins have been a very inconsistent team, to say the least. The club has gone through stretches where they have looked like world beaters while they have looked downright awful at other times.
One reason the club has been inconsistent this season is because of their goaltending. More specifically, it’s been the play of netminder Matt Murray that has led to peaks and valleys this year for the Penguins.
Murray, 24, got off to a rough start this season with his poor play, has dealt with several injuries this season, and his play has been up and down this season when he has been between the pipes. Believe it or not, however—and this is the inconsistent part—Murray’s play has started to improve a bit.
Murray is currently 21-10-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage, and three shutouts. Considering what his numbers were earlier in the season, these numbers are quite good.
If the Penguins want to get back to being consistent, Murray is going to have to step up in a big way. He needs to stop allowing soft goals, needs to come up with the big save when the team needs one, and he simply needs to keep his game simple.
For a team that is currently fifth in the league in goals scored with 228 goals in 66 games (that is an average of over three goals per game), the club’s offense has also been a little bit inconsistent this season. Even the team’s captain and franchise player Sidney Crosby got off to a slow start.
As of this writing, however, Crosby leads the team in scoring with 86 points (30 goals and 56 assists). This should not come as a surprise considering the fact that he might still be the game’s best player today.
After Crosby, guys like Phil Kessel (66 points), Evgeni Malkin (66 points), and Jake Guentzel (62 points) are also all having solid seasons as offensive contributors for this hockey club. A few of these players also got off to slow starts, but much like Crosby did, they have all seemed to find their respective games.
With that said, besides those players mentioned above, not much offense is coming from anywhere else. Players like Patric Hornqvist, Matt Cullen, Zach Aston-Reese, along with several others need to help on offense if this team not only wants to make the playoffs but have success in them.
Basically put, the Penguins have been a middle of the pack team this season. They have been good, but not great this year, and with the exception of their offense, they have been a middle of the road team in most statistical categories this season.
If they want to make the playoffs and be a contender in them, they will need to get back to being consistent and being the team that other clubs do not want to play against at the most important time of the year.
Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette