As of May 8, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2020-21 regular season has officially come to close. This year has proven to be a trying one for multiple teams in the NHL who were battered by COVID-19 and its protocols, but the Penguins refused to fall victim to the difficult times. Through the course of the four-month, 56-game NHL season, adversity flooded the team’s locker room in every facet of the game, but they continued to bend rather than break. Not only did they exceed expectations and prove their worth to the NHL, but they managed to surpass franchise records and career milestones along the way. This post will reflect back on the Penguins’ regular season, their path to clinching first in the MassMutual East Division, and milestones that were notched during this difficult year.
Best Home Points Percentage in Franchise History
Given the Penguins’ league-leading 392 wins at home since 2005-06, it’s fairly safe to say the team can win at home. However, they somehow found a way to out-do themselves this year, breaking the franchise record for home points percentage. The Penguins went 22-4-2 at home this season, amounting to a .821 points percentage through 28 games. This record was previously held by the Stanley Cup champion 1992-93 team, who held a .810 points percentage.
As any hockey fan knows, home-ice advantage can make or break a team’s playoff chances. With the Penguins performing extremely well on home ice, along with clinching home ice through a minimum of two rounds, they have set themselves up to succeed in the big moments. However, the playoffs are notably different than the regular season, as adrenaline and emotions run high with the Stanley Cup in sight. If the team can translate their immense success from the regular season to the postseason, they have as good a chance as anybody to make a deep playoff push.
Crosby Surpassing 1,000 NHL Games
As players enter the draft as young and promising prospects, they dream of being able to play in the NHL in any regard, let alone achieving a milestone that is widely seen as one of the most difficult to obtain: 1,000 NHL games. Despite multiple health complications, Sidney Crosby managed to notch this milestone on Feb. 20 in a 3-2 home win against the New York Islanders, and is now the only player in franchise history to play 1,000 games for the team.
Though this season has provided relief to most, it has been underestimated how much stress the restrictive COVID protocols and shortened season have placed on teams. This moment allowed the team, and especially Crosby, to experience some sort of normalcy through the form of a team celebration and tribute video.
While this emotional moment is certainly an important highlight, it was quickly overshadowed by Crosby’s dominant performance this season. He recorded 24 goals and 38 assists in 55 games this season, leading the team in points, goals, assists, and faceoff win percentage. This puts him at second among the division with regard to points (behind only Brad Marchand) and eighth in the league overall. Crosby’s production at an older age has shown no signs of slowing down, and his personal success this season has, in large part, contributed to the Penguins’ regular-season dominance.
Third-Best Points Percentage in Franchise History
Supported greatly by their incredible home performances this season, the Penguins have managed to record the franchise’s third-best point percentage in their 54-year history. Going 37-16-3 in the 56-game stint this season, the Penguins finished with 77 points, as well as a .688 points percentage. This total sits behind only the 2012-13 season (.750) and 1992-93 season (.708) with regards to points percentage.
This season marks only the third time in franchise history that a team has achieved top-5 status in both categories, joining the 2012-13 and 1992-93 teams, both of which made it to the second round at the very least in their respective postseasons. Similar to every other team in the league, the Penguins came into the season with two simple goals: making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup. They have now completed one of their season-long goals, and aim to begin the journey towards the next in the coming weeks.
Emergence of Depth Throughout Lineup
While this season is by no means an easy one to any team regardless of injury situations, the Penguins have undoubtedly been tested in the four-month span of the regular season. As covered in my previous article, the team experienced a flurry of injuries to their defensive and offensive corps. Key players like Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Tanev, Brian Dumoulin, Jason Zucker, John Marino, and plenty more have all missed significant time for this steadfast Penguins team, leaving multiple unlikely heroes to step up in big moments.
Players in the likes of Frederick Gaudreau, Jeff Carter, Cody Ceci, Mike Matheson, and more stepped into the spotlight and shined. Gaudreau and Carter, along with their linemate Jared McCann, have managed to help the Penguins anchor down a solid third line that has the ability to grind and score. On the other hand, Ceci and Matheson have each proven to be legitimate top-4 defensemen, as well as a good combination for the Penguins’ second d-pair, combining for 33 points and a plus-27. Like any team poised to make a deep playoff run, the team’s depth has proven to be ready for the call should they get it come playoff time.
This year has been different to say the least. The intradivisional schedule, shortened season, COVID-19 protocols, no/limited fans in attendance, and more have either allowed teams to flourish or flounder. Luckily, the Penguins have been a team of adversity, and have found a way to flourish in this difficult time. As the playoffs loom on the horizon and the Pens wait for their first-round opponent to be determined, the rest and recovery the team will obtain is much needed and deserved. With the ability to get to full health before the grueling grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, the team should be poised for yet another deep playoff run in the Crosby-Malkin-Letang era.