The Pittsburgh Penguins prominence for the last decade has been special. The team won back to back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, produced two Hart Trophy winners, and dominated their rivals, the Washington Capitals, for the better part of the last decade. Since 2017 however, the Penguins have indicated that their star-studded team is not falling apart in terms of the pieces to the roster, but in terms of team success. Their stars have maintained individual and regular-season success, but the Pittsburgh Penguins playoffs have fallen far from their former glory. In order to reveal what direction this team is heading in, it’s important to realize what actually happened against the Montreal Canadiens.
Pittsburgh Penguins Playoffs Failure Could Spell Doom
The Carey Price Effect
The Montreal Canadiens finished the shortened regular season with a record of 31-31-9. At first glance, this matchup didn’t seem like much of a contest. The Penguins used the break to get healthy, so most people thought they would cruise through this series. However, it wasn’t a matter of overlooking a team. It was a matter of Carey Price dominating and the Penguins simply not playing well. There’s stats like save percentage and goals-against-average, but to really put into perspective how overmatched the Penguins were against Carey Price, it’s important to look at the Penguins regular season numbers compared to their numbers in this series. The Penguins averaged 3.20 goals per game and 31.9 shots per game during the regular season. In the series against Montreal, the Penguins averaged 1.20 fewer goals per game, on 1.6 more shots per game. Price also saved 3.72 goals above average in the series against Pittsburgh. The result of Price’s dominance was the Penguins missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season. They have now lost nine of their last 10 playoff games dating back to 2018.
What Does This Mean For The Penguins Future?
While the Penguins have struggled in the playoffs recently, their short term future shouldn’t be affected if they are able to make the correct decisions with their roster. It is worth noting that the Penguins fired multiple assistant coaches after their series loss to the Canadiens. However, there are multiple roster moves when it comes to player movement and development that are crucial for the success of the organization.
Nothing should be taken away from what Matt Murray has done for the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. He’s been a huge part of two cup runs and the team gave him the permanent starting job in 2017-18. Unfortunately for Murray, his play has regressed and the Penguins seem to have their future franchise goalie in Tristan Jarry. Jarry started Game 4 of the series against the Canadiens and saved 20/21 shots. While that is his only playoff experience, he proved to be much better than Murray throughout the regular season. In a press conference before the start of the series, Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan said “We’ll take each game as it comes, but we feel good about the goaltending tandem that we have” (Pittsburghhockeynow.com). From what it sounds like, the Penguins organization is confident that Jarry is ready to handle big-game situations and he proved that in Game 4.
The Penguins have a few realistic options of how to handle Murray. They could try to trade him in the upcoming off-season, after re-signing him, to a team looking for a promising starting goalie. Murray still has hope as a starter in the league, just not with Jarry pushing him out of Pittsburgh. They could also keep him for the 2020-21 season and leave him unprotected in the 2021 Expansion Draft. However, Jarry is also entering free agency this upcoming off-season. Some plan of action will need to be made in Pittsburgh, to help the team avoid paying both Murray and Jarry on long-term deals.
One thing is certain though: The way things are trending, Tristan Jarry is the future starting goalie of the Penguins.
Development Of Young Wings
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still have some time in their primes. They’re 33 and 34 respectively, so both will still be top forwards in the league for multiple years to come. However, with both of them getting older, it is important that the Penguins develop their other younger forwards to stay in the hunt for a Stanley Cup.
The ideal scenario would’ve been to get the number 1 pick in the lottery last night and draft Alexis Lafreniere. However, that pick went to the New York Rangers and the Penguins will be stuck with the wingers they have. The Penguins luckily have their most important wings in Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker locked up for multiple years. With those two locked up, the Penguins main focus should be retaining Conor Sheary.
Sheary is a speedy forward that’s disappointed recently as a part of the underwhelming Buffalo Sabres. Fans have seen what he can do on Sidney Crosby’s wing, with Sheary posting 53 points in 61 games in Pittsburgh in 2016-17. His cap hit shouldn’t be enormous either because of his performance in the last couple of seasons. Sheary can be a valuable piece to the Penguins organization if they can keep him around and have him producing at what he’s capable of. If he were to leave Pittsburgh this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, Pittsburgh could be looking at playing an aging Patric Hornqvist or a guy who isn’t ready for a big role yet like Sam Lafferty, in the top-six.
Expectations For Next Season
The Penguins should still be cup contenders in the near future. The recent Pittsburgh Penguins playoffs failures have been simply unlucky, as they’ve ran into two hot goaltenders (Robin Lehner and Carey Price) in the last two seasons. The organization is most definitely still a playoff team for the next couple years. They have the pieces to win another Stanley Cup even with the Metropolitan Division getting better. The team turning to Tristian Jarry and developing their top forwards should keep them in the top of the league. Penguins fans won’t have to worry about a rebuild for a little while.