3 Reasons Why the Pittsburgh Penguins Will and Won't Win the Stanley Cup

Penguins' GM Ron Hextall from a photo courtesy of Penguins.com

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The unofficial second half of the season gets underway for the NHL Monday evening. The Penguins, however, won’t play until Tuesday night in Boston.

The Penguins have played some really good hockey at times this year and have rendered themselves Stanley Cup contenders. Despite a four-game losing streak prior to the all-star break, they only lost one of those games in regulation and earned three points out of the possible eight.

They’ve faced an absolutely brutal schedule recently, playing 16 games in 32 days, so essentially one every other night for a month. They were tired and certainly needed the break to wind down and recharge.

I’ve decided to use this space to break down three reasons why the Penguins will, and won’t, win the Stanley Cup this season. Without further ado, let’s discuss.

Why the Pens Will Win the Cup

Reason 1: The Core Has Been Here Before

While a nice handful of players from the Penguins' previous Cup teams have gone on to greener pastures, the Penguins still have a plethora of players from that window. They still have seven holdovers that won at least one Stanley Cup from those teams. Jeff Carter has also been around the block, and won a time or two.

Those guys know the grind. The stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang were here dating all the way back to the 2009 title. Brian Dumoulin has been a steady presence on the back end for quite some time. Also, Jake Guentzel continues to show he can be an elite scorer at the NHL-level. Not to mention, we all know Bryan Rust’s penchant for Game 7’s. Even Chad Ruhwedel was rostered when Pittsburgh won it all in 2016-17’.

Certainly having guys who have done it before helps in the grand scheme of things and it’ll be no different for the Penguins this year.

Reason 2: Mike Sullivan

There might not be a better coach in all of hockey than Mike Sullivan. Only Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay) and Jeff Blashill (Detroit) are longer tenured coaches than Mike Sullivan and in the NHL, the average coach doesn’t usually see more than five years with a team. If it doesn’t work, you’re gone.

Sullivan is in his sixth full season behind the Pens’ bench but he was hired seven years ago in December of 2015. Just typing that sentence makes me feel really old.

Game-after-game, season-after-season, it feels like Sullivan should be in the Jack Adams conversation for Coach of the Year. While he’s never won it, he’s certainly been deserving of the award on multiple occasions and this year is no different.

He carried a battered Penguins team to a solid record while all of his stars were missing significant time early in the season. It has allowed them to breathe very comfortably through a four-game losing streak that would typically start to scare a team and minimize their playoff hopes.

Sullivan’s ability to still get his message across seven years later, and see his team play effective hockey, is impressive.  He’s gotten the most out of a lot of players who would otherwise have been forgotten across other teams in the NHL.

Reason 3: Depth

Pittsburgh has some of the best depth in the NHL. They’ve received a lot of production from unexpected sources, while also seeing all the guys they expect to provide scoring do just that.

Unfortunately their depth has gone cold in recent weeks and the Penguins have lost games because of it. Over the last four games, only Crosby, Rust, Malkin, and Guentzel have scored goals for the Penguins. So only four players have been responsible for all of the Pens’ scoring over four games. That can’t happen. It’s not feasible to ask those four to play at that level for the rest of the season if they’re going to get next to no help on the score sheet.

But, the Penguins have seen guys like Jeff Carter, Evan Rodrigues, Brock McGinn, Brian Boyle, and Teddy Blueger step up and score a bit more often than they’d be expected to. So the scoring ability and depth is there, it just has to resurface.

I expect that it will now that the Pens’ grueling schedule has finally given them a break. We'll see when they get back at it Tuesday night.

Why the Pens Won't Win the Cup

Reason 1: Goaltending

This is not a knock on Tristan Jarry. He’s played some really good hockey this season and I expect that to continue. He has slipped a bit recently and I think that’s to be expected with how much he’s played.

The real problem is that if the Penguins don't find backup goaltender they will run Jarry into the ground. He’s been playing far too much and they don’t have a reliable backup option. Casey DeSmith looked much better his last time out, but it was his first good outing all season.

When Jarry faltered last postseason, the Penguins did not have a reliable veteran to turn to. Bringing in someone like a Braden Holtby-type would not have Jarry looking over his shoulder, but would give the Penguins another option down the stretch to relieve Jarry a bit.

No goalie is ever going to say they don’t want to play every night, and Jarry is no exception. However, it would behoove the Penguins to find a secondary option at the position for some peace of mind. No one saw Jarry’s epic collapse coming last season. So the Penguins should at least be more prepared this time around.

Reason 2: The Metro Division is a Buzz Saw

It’s kind of crazy being the sixth best team in hockey while still sitting at third place in your own division. That’s where the Penguins stand currently. Just in their division alone, the Hurricanes, Rangers, and Capitals present very tough matchups.

With the Atlantic Division also being set for the most part, Florida, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston present tough tasks too. The playoffs won’t be an easy task this season. That doesn’t even mention Colorado, Nashville, and Vegas, some of the best teams out west, if the Penguins made the Finals. The Kings have also given Pittsburgh fits this season.

There is a really good crop of potential playoff teams out there and Pittsburgh is certainly among them. But the grind of the season takes a toll on your team and with the Pens’ stars up there in age, we’ll see if their bodies can handle another grueling run at the Cup Finals.

Reason 3: Not Much Impact Coming at Trade Deadline

The Penguins aren’t used to standing idle at the trade deadline. Jim Rutherford always had to make a move or two. Those moves usually weren’t without a splash.

Ron Hextall’s first Penguins trade deadline last season saw Pittsburgh sure up their center depth by acquiring Carter. That’s a fairly big move.

This season, however? Don’t expect the Pens to be very active. Unless a big name gets hurt, the Penguins will likely be making some perimeter moves to tighten up some holes on the team, but that's it.

As mentioned earlier, a backup goaltender of some sort will likely be in the cards for the former goaltender Hextall. Brian Burke, the Pens’ President of Hockey Operations, has stated that the Penguins need to start rebuilding their prospect system as well. So parting with first-round picks likely won’t happen this season and that’s probably a good thing.

The forward depth is very deep for the Pens. They’ve got plenty of guys that have gone between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh this season and have been played well for the parent club.

Defensively is where the Penguins could make a tweak. They actually have a solid six in the lineup now and they’ve all stayed very healthy this year outside of some COVID bouts and minor injuries. Normally, the Pens don’t have enough defensemen. It’s been the opposite this year.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph is still in the minors and Mark Friedman, a feisty defenseman that likes to play physical, is there as the seventh defenseman.

Ron Hainsey wasn’t a big name when the Penguins acquired him in 2016-17’ but he ended up playing a crucial role in the Penguins quest for a second straight Stanley Cup. Those kinds of guys are important finds for Pittsburgh.

If they make the right small moves, there is enough depth to carry them far enough. However, some of the teams that are already better than them will be looking to beef up with some splash moves. That may not translate well for Pittsburgh.