Penguins: 3 Burning Questions Heading Into the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Pittsburgh Penguins have punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a very impressive season. They are at the top of the MassMutual East Division heading into Monday night’s action and should have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Still, there’s a level of uncertainty heading into the postseason. Here are three burning questions about the Penguins.

Can Netminder Tristan Jarry Have Playoff Success?

I put Jarry in the spotlight before the season started, and, quite frankly, I’m surprised management didn’t acquire a veteran goaltender with a wealth of playoff experience before the deadline. Jarry has only appeared in one NHL playoff game and six at the AHL level. Will he be able to step up his game to a Cup-run type of level?

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry looks poised for playoff success (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The one thing working for Jarry is he’s played much better in the second half of this season, and he is heading into the playoffs with confidence. The 26-year-old appeared in 36 games in 2020-21, recording a 23-9-3 record, including a 16-6 record in his last 22 games. Head coach Mike Sullivan is hoping he can ride this momentum and solidify the team’s crease heading into the postseason.

The Penguins have a great track record using inexperienced goaltenders in the playoffs, and everyone is hoping Jarry can create some special moments to have his name enshrined alongside Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.

Will the Penguins Find Instant Chemistry With a Healthy Roster?

The Penguins were chomped on by the injury bug, as has happened before, and appear to be getting healthy at the perfect time. The coaching staff is hoping and praying they will have everyone back for a couple of games before the playoffs begin to settle on the best line combinations. The top line – Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel – aren’t going anywhere; however, Evgeni Malkin has been out of the lineup for a while, and Sullivan would love to test out some players on his left-wing with Kasperi Kapanen set on the right.

Newcomer Jeff Carter has played as advertised and has fit in perfectly, producing almost more than anticipated. However, he has yet to play with Malkin in the lineup, and the coaching staff can’t wait to see all their prized jewels on the ice together. The playoff lines are going to be intriguing, to say the least. The postseason is all about making adjustments on the fly, and fans can expect to see Sullivan shake things up if the team loses early.

Jason Zucker Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins hope Jason Zucker can find his game come playoffs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’ll be worth keeping an eye on who plays with Malkin and Kapanen. Can Carter and Jared McCann stay hot? They have been tearing it up together and are likely to remain in tact, while Malkin and Kapanen have said how fun it is to play together, so expect them to be reunited when Malkin returns. While he won’t win the Conn Smythe, Sullivan is the most important piece of this playoff roster.

Can the Penguins Win Ugly?

Even though the Penguins are leading the league in goals scored, they’ll be harder to come by during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The character of the team will be tested, but they should be prepared to handle that. Every game can’t be a player’s best game, so it’s important that the Penguins buy into playing a defensive or shut-down style when they need to.

Take the victory over the Boston Bruins, 1-0, on April 25. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Jarry made 30 saves for the shutout and praised his team for their defensive play. This type of game will help generate offense, and if the Penguins’ defense can kick-start their offense, the rest of the NHL is in big trouble.

If the Penguins want to win the Cup, they will need a first-class performance from their starting goaltender, a balanced attack from their top-three lines, and show their coaching staff that they can win ugly. All they need to do is win 16 playoff games. It’s not a matter of how; the only thing that matters is how many.