Even For the Pittsburgh Penguins, All Good Things Must Come to An End

Photo credit: Associated Press

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Hello darkness, my old friend.

We’re on the precipice of playoff hockey, a time that’s supposed to unite a fan base as one with optimism for a shot at winning Lord Stanley. Instead, the Penguins are limping, and that’s putting it mildly, into the postseason.

The standings show that they comfortably made it and that’s thanks to a wonderful start to the season. Let’s not forget about their 17 wins in 19 games around mid-season. They’ve had some absolutely incredible moments this season.

However, there’s been entirely too much bad play lately. It’s some of the worst hockey the Penguins have played in the 16 years that they’ve made the postseason. 

Call it an aging core. Call it a lack of depth. Blame it on the fact that they have no goaltending. Spin it however you want. The ingredients all add up to the same, sobering result in the next few weeks: yet another first-round exit.

Does that mean I’m going to stop supporting this team? Absolutely not. In fact, I’m probably even going to attend one, if not both, of the home playoff games if only to see what could be the final games of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang’s Penguins career.

It feels like the Penguins are dead on arrival. It’s a shame. You would love to see them have a shot at making a deep playoff run. Maybe they’ll flip a switch and become the Penguins of old and thrive in the underdog role that they thrived in way back when. Or, maybe, they’ll go with their tail between their legs like it seems like they’ve done too much lately.

An older team like this will have to fade at some point. It’s just bound to happen. Their best players are nearing the wrong side of 30. They’ve become a one-line team. Tristan Jarry looks like he won’t have the opportunity to avenge his playoff disaster from last season. It’s such a shame.

This makes you wonder about the future too. Not only for Malkin and Letang, but is Mike Sullivan going to be back next year? There’s a new ownership group and Ron Hextall along with Brian Burke were not the ones to hire Sullivan and, therefore, have no allegiance to him.

Pittsburgh has to start playing bigger and tougher. They have to. It’s not optional. If Sullivan isn’t willing to buy into that style, do we see them going their separate ways?

I hate to write a eulogy before the playoffs even begin but doesn’t it just feel appropriate? I’ve never felt worse about the Penguins heading towards the playoffs.

And some of the blame can be thrust on management. They’ve had a year to bolster their goaltending situation. They watched Jarry blow up in the playoffs last year. They watched Casey DeSmith struggle mightily at the beginning of this year. What was their response? Let him fight out of it.

While that’s all well and good, it forced Jarry to play entirely too much and now we actually have the nightmare situation where DeSmith has to play in the playoffs. That’s not a knock on Casey by any means. He’s a good backup goaltender. But the keyword is backup. And those guys don’t typically make runs against the other elite goaltenders that these playoffs will be littered with.

But this isn’t just on goaltending.

The Penguins have become a one line team. Bryan Rust has gone pointless in eight straight games now. He has six points in his last 15 games and one of those games was a three-point effort alone.

Evan Rodrigues, also without a point in his last eight contests, has one goal in the last 22 games. Instead of scratching Brian Boyle, maybe Rodrigues should be sitting. There are guys like Drew O’Connor sitting in the minors awaiting a chance to play. And with the salary cap going away heading into the playoffs, someone like O’Connor might just get a real chance to play over someone like Rodrigues or Kasperi Kapanen.

Jason Zucker might be hurt again too but that’s par for the course unfortunately. His spot will be readily available for someone if he misses even more time.

I want to believe I’ll wake up tomorrow and this is all a dream, a nightmare really. The Penguins are playing well and we should all have the utmost confidence in them going forward. That’s not going to happen. So let’s hope there’s another switch and a different hunger come next week when the calendar flips to the elimination bracket.

If not, we’re in for a different offseason than we’ve seen in almost two decades.