The Pittsburgh Penguins have gone through a roller-coaster season that’s been filled with injury reports, dynamic offense and hard work. Head coach Mike Sullivan has his team working their tails off trying to get prepared for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will be in tough as the recent news of starting netminder Tristan Jarry breaking his foot has certainly put a damper on the mood heading into the postseason. Regardless of who occupies the crease, a Sullivan-coached team will be ready to start on time and give everything they’ve got from the opening puck drop. Let’s take a look at three Penguins who will need to step up in order for Pittsburgh to stand a chance at another Stanley Cup.
Bold take, I know, but if you look back to the past few postseasons, Sidney Crosby has not been on top of his game when it’s mattered the most. In 2020-21 he only recorded two points in six games against the New York Islanders, this coming after three points the year before and only one point in 2018-19.
The Penguins are going to need their best players to play like their best players and Crosby certainly leads the way in Pittsburgh. There’s been a lot of inconsistencies throughout the Penguins lineup this season, however, one staple has been the top line of Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. These three need to be firing on all cylinders and the captain needs to be steering the ship in that regard.
With 191 points in 174 career playoff games, the resume certainly speaks for itself. Crosby needs to be his dominant self as the team is likely going to rely on the offense to have any chance at winning a series or two this postseason.
After Jarry had a dismal performance in the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Islanders, many felt the team was going to go out and acquire a veteran netminder. Turns out a long chat with general manager Ron Hextall was the apparent cure and the organization was convinced they had exactly the starting goaltender they needed to win another Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh. Boy oh boy, how things change.
With Jarry’s broken foot getting in the way, Casey DeSmith will be given a short leash in the Penguins crease as the 30-year-old is expected to start Game 1 of the first round. It sounds like that’s not a forgone conclusion, however, as coach Sullivan seems to think Jarry’s foot may have a chance to miraculously heal before the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs in just a few weeks.
So far this season, DeSmith has posted a 2.89 goals-against average (GAA) in 22 appearances, however, that really means nothing as the spotlight brightens come playoff time. The 30-year-old netminder has never played in an NHL postseason game, which creates a worrisome level of uncertainty on what type of performance the team can expect to see from him.
DeSmith has won only two of his last seven starts of late and will obviously need to be better to give the Penguins a chance. The team has Louis Domingue as a potential third option, however at this point that’s not a bridge coach Sullivan wants to cross and the keys will be handed over to DeSmith for at least Game 1.
With five games remaining on the schedule, expect to see Domingue get into some game action. Penguins netminders in the playoffs have been a touchy subject in recent years, so this is certainly a storyline to keep an eye on as the postseason approaches.
I could have put Jeff Carter, Kasperi Kapanen, John Marino or Michael Matheson in this spot, but for me, it’s Evan Rodrigues that needs to step up the most. Secondary scoring is paramount for playoff success and after a blazing start to the season, he has cooled off tremendously and that needs to change come the postseason.
On the season the speedy winger has 42 points in 77 games, however, he currently finds himself in the dog house of coach Sullivan as we’ve seen in recent weeks when he’s made his way down in the lineup. Rodrigues has scored only twice in his past 25 games which is such a crazy transition from how often he was lighting the lamp to kick off the 2021-22 season.
The Penguins needed the help of ‘E-Rod’ to keep things afloat at the beginning of the regular season and now they are going to need him to step up and perform come crunch time in the playoffs. After only appearing in two games last postseason, it will be a much different story for him this time around. Having him producing on the team’s third line would be ideal and give the lineup some serious balance, making them even tougher to play against in a playoff series.
With so many unknowns leading up to the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins are a complete wild card. Will their number one netminder be healthy enough to play? Can he bounce back from last postseason’s disappointment? Is there anyone capable if not? What Crosby will show up? Where does the secondary scoring come from? So many questions, so little time; the Penguins’ postseason run will hopefully be long and full of answers to them.