Another season has passed for the Pittsburgh Penguins as their Game 7 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers marked another failed opportunity for the supposedly mighty Penguins. Since their 2009 Stanley Cup championship, Pittsburgh has gotten further away from being the dynasty many predicted they would be.
It would be easy to blame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the loss and he certainly bears the brunt of the blame for good reason. Since the Cup-winning year, Fleury has been disastrous in the playoffs. This year was better for him but still not good enough. As a number one goalie, he needs to step up his game when it matters most. Fleury is going into a contract year and it will be interesting to see how the Penguins will handle it. The organization has some young goalie prospects in Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray but they are a few years away from the NHL.
However, it is Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who will feel the most heat amongst the players. As the captain, Crosby is the main man for leadership and based on what I have seen, I’m not so sure he is giving this team what it needs right now. Yes, he was the captain for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics but he also had a strong leadership core around him and an excellent coach in Mike Babcock. 9 points in 13 playoff games is not good enough for the best player in the world. He was given a beating by the Rangers and he didn’t react well. Crosby insists he was healthy but the dominant regular season player he was disappeared come playoff time.
Malkin had 14 points in 13 games; good but obviously not good enough. Malkin is one of the most talented players in the world and he would be the star on virtually any other team. Like Crosby, he needed to step up more when it counted.
The Penguins’ defense is not good enough, but that’s no secret. Kris Letang is elite but he is coming off a stroke. Paul Martin is not a top pairing guy while Brooks Orpik is wearing down at a rapid rate. On the other hand, Matt Niskanen, the supposed afterthought in the James Neal acquisition, has flourished in Pittsburgh. Teenage defenseman Olli Maatta turned in a very good rookie season and shows lots of promise as a top four defenseman going forward. Luckily for the Penguins, they have a nice stable of young defensemen waiting in the wings with the likes of Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin close to joining fellow youngster Maatta on the big club.
In my mind, Pittsburgh’s biggest need is on the wing. There is a serious dearth of quality wingers in the organization. Chris Kunitz is 34 years old and no doubt he has thrived playing with Crosby and Malkin but in my mind he is still not a top line winger. James Neal is entering his prime but his playoff performance left more to be desired. The Penguins are also high on Beau Bennett but he is young and still needs a little more time before he fulfills his potential. But the Penguins need more than that. Drafting and developing some young quality wingers has to be a priority for the team.
It is widely acknowledged that head coach Dan Bylsma needs to go. Bylsma has made Pittsburgh a dominant regular season team, but one that can’t get it done in the playoffs. GM Ray Shero, who is also rumoured to be ousted, has failed to provide this team with quality depth players up front and on the back end. However, it is Bylsma’s job to get the best out of his players and he failed to do that, plain and simple.
It is fair to say the Pittsburgh Penguins have disappointed in the last five years. This is a team that was pegged as the next dynasty but in my mind, that crown belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks. They have won two championships in the past four years while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have turned in dominant playoff performances with each winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Pittsburgh needs to maximize the talents of Crosby and Malkin while they are in their primes as players of their ilk do not come along every day. Ownership has to step up and do what’s best for the organization before their chances at Stanley Cup contention slip further away.
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