Penguins’ Early-Season Obstacles Could Make or Break Season

Right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are facing a pivotal point in the season that can either make or break their future performance. They have performed miracles and managed three-goal comebacks a few times this season, but they also need to face some obstacles so they can regain a sense of consistency.

The Penguins now sit with 22 points after playing 18 games; with that being said, they also hold the number seven slot in the Eastern Conference, behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and just above the Montreal Canadiens. 

Pittsburgh Penguins Brandon Tanev
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Brandon Tanev (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

This performance, statistically, is not bad and their overall performance has illustrated the depth of their talents. However, the hiccups have truly damaged the team’s capacity for constant and consistent play.

Sidney Crosby’s Troubling Injury

After Sidney Crosby sustained a lower-body injury against the Chicago Blackhawks, he missed the away game against the New York Rangers. After a few days of evaluation, word was released that Crosby had undergone core muscle surgery and will be out for six weeks.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

That being said, the rest of the team will have to move on and continue to score goals without their captain. Crosby himself has scored 5 goals and assisted on 12 others; out of the 17 games that he has played, he has produced 17 points. His production alone will be greatly missed by the team, but also, they must develop a way to make opportunities as often as Crosby.

There is no doubt that all of the healthy players can score goals and win games, it is simply a matter of creating enough effort on the ice to make talent genuinely effective. Right now, the team had been blessed with Bryan Rust’s offensive talent, Brandon Tanev’s speed, and Jake Guentzel’s hunger. If they rely on these few to score goals, while veterans help lead the team, the Penguins should have a decent six weeks without Crosby.

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby Evgeni Malkin
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby speaks to forward Evgeni Malkin on the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Evgeni Malkin, who was out for some time early this season due to an injury, is now looking to help the team during the team without his teammate. Looking at players like Malkin, will definitely help the team light a spark and make them navigate the obstacles that come with missing such a large component of the team.

We have [a] great group here, everyone, we need to work … harder, every shift. Be a leader on (the) ice and off (the) ice (and in the) locker room. I understand coach [Mike Sullivan will] give me more time to play. Everyone is looking to me right now. I need to play smart, it’s not the first time I’m here without Sid, but I’m ready. It’s nothing new for me.

Evgeni Malkin

Matt Murray’s Goaltending Flops

On a more minor note, another obstacle they face is with goaltender Matt Murray’s performance. In 15 games played, Murray has a 9-3-2 record and his save percentage is .914.

In this case, his stats aren’t bad and it seems fair considering how early it is in the season. However, looking at past playoff performances, it seems as if he isn’t operating at a level that could take the team where they deserve to be.

Now, he is not a complete bust as a goalie, but in some close games, he doesn’t seem to stand a chance against the opposing goalie. Most of the time, the other end of the ice faces more shots than he does, but most shots don’t turn into goals. In comparison to the opponent’s goalie, he has moments where he just falls a bit flat.

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Don’t get me wrong, he has made some tremendous saves that really illustrate his skill in the net. But he needs to operate with the same urgency that the rest of the team does. It’s important that his game is up to par with his teammates in order for any of their efforts to be successful in the long term. The concern is not that he is a “bad goalie,” rather he needs to be consistent through the next six weeks and far beyond that if the Penguins want to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, or even just the playoffs.

Penguins Have History of Overcoming Injuries

All-in-all, the Penguins have been playing decently in the first 18 games of the season; I feel it is a true test of their skill and cohesiveness if they manage to make it through a six-week stretch without their captain. But also, they’ve done it before and they have faced greater losses before. It’s important for this team to maintain it’s sense of normalcy and consistency for them to stand a chance against some of the other outperforming teams.

Whether they lose a star player or another isn’t quite playing to the speed of the other players, these obstacles will challenge the Penguins. But also, it will show off that they are a force of nature when everyone plays their hardest.