Penguins Dangerously Close to Ending Playoff Streak

The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently struggling to hold on to their wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with some pretty big games coming up on their schedule. The Penguins will face division rivals in the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders in their next two games. The Islanders defeated the Penguins, 5-4, on Feb. 17, and will play them again on Monday, Feb. 20 in Pittsburgh. 

The Islanders may not make the playoffs this year, but they do not plan to go quietly. They are 3-1-2 in their last six games and are currently riding high after acquiring forward Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks. In those six games, Horvat had three goals and one assist. There is no denying that the Penguins have been on a roller coaster for most of the year, which has fans uneasy about their schedule through the rest of the regular season. It seems like no matter what they do they just can’t put a full team performance together for an entire game. What is still going wrong and can it be fixed?

Bottom Six Struggles Continue 

The truth is, the Penguins’ bottom six has been struggling for the majority of the season. The third line, which is made up of Jeff Carter at center, Brock McGinn at left wing and Kasperi Kapanen at right wing, has been a train wreck. Their expected goals rate is at 34.6 percent and their expected goals against is 3.39, making Pittsburgh’s third line one of the worst in the NHL. 

The issues on the third line start with Carter. He has one point in his last 14 games. He can’t control the puck and most of the time has trouble even making it into the offensive zone. He is good on the faceoff and that’s about it. He has a no-movement and no-trade clause on his current contract, which means the Penguins do not have many options with him. However, they cannot continue to keep playing him with the hope that he will get better. At 38 years old, it is highly unlikely his game will improve and Pittsburgh should already be considering pulling him from the lineup altogether. 

Jeff Carter, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jeff Carter, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McGinn had a bit of a streak going with 10 goals to open the season, but has not recorded a point since before Christmas, yet he is still averaging almost 13 minutes of ice time a night. At this point, Kapanen looks like the best player on the third line and that is saying a lot considering his inconsistency. He has a total of three points in his last 11 games. The hard truth is that Pittsburgh’s third line is not playable anymore, and with the trade deadline fast approaching, that is where they should be focusing most of their energy. 

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The fourth line has also fallen flat this season. Fourth-line center Teddy Blueger has been a huge disappointment. He has played in 39 games and scored one goal and had seven assists for a total of eight points. He also accounts for $2.2 million against the salary cap. Despite his lack of production this season, he still has a pretty high trade value. It could just be that he needs a change of scenery, and the Penguins may even find a cheaper replacement. Forward Ryan Poehling showed early promise at the beginning of the season, but has been struggling with injuries and has not been able to contribute much since before Christmas. 

End of the Streak?

All good things must come to an end, but the Penguins were not planning on ending their playoff streak this soon. The focus at the end of last season was re-signing forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, and that was obviously the right decision. However, Pittsburgh did not do enough to strengthen their bottom six and are feeling the effects of that at the worst time. There is still a chance they will make a postseason appearance, but even if that happens, it is highly unlikely they will make it past the first round.