On Tuesday, April 26 the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the Edmonton Oilers 5-1. This game summed up the month of April for Pittsburgh and exposed all their shortcomings. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and it left fans with a sick feeling that they would be looking at a first-round elimination for the fourth year in a row. Can the Penguins turn things around against the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs? If they have any chance of doing that there are some key areas that need major improvement.
Penguins’ Penalty Kill
The Penguins finished the regular season third in the penalty kill with an 84.4% success rate, however, in April the team’s penalty kill seemed to fall off. In their last game of the regular season against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins allowed two power-play goals in the third period. They were able to get away with it and win the game 5-3, but that is not something they can afford to do against the Rangers, who ranked fourth in the NHL on the power play.
Rangers’ left winger Chris Kreider finished first in the NHL with power-play goals scoring 26 on the season. Defenseman Adam Fox is also a huge part of the Rangers’ power play. He did not have any power-play goals but finished the season with 33 assists. The Penguins will need to find a way to get back to their aggressive style of play on the penalty kill in order to have any chance against the Rangers.
Penguins’ Line Combinations
The Penguins made some changes to their top six ahead of the Oilers game which seemed unnecessary. Right-winger Rickard Rakell was moved back down to the second line with center Evgeni Malkin. Rakell had been playing on the first line with captain Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel for most of April which had been the only thing going right for the team.
Also on the second line against the Oilers was left winger Brock McGinn. It seems lately that McGinn has become dead weight on any line, and he proved that he definitely does not belong in the top six. He simply has not been able to produce on offense, and the Penguins should think long and hard before putting him in the lineup against the Rangers.
Another huge disappointment on offense this season has been Kasperi Kapanen. He has had the worst season of his career with only 11 goals total for the year. With his total lack of production this season it is hard not to remember the Jared McCann trade and wonder if the Penguins made the right decision. McCann, who is currently with the Seattle Kraken, ended the season with 50 points including 27 goals. The Penguins have not left themselves many options, and will more than likely have Kapanen in the lineup going into Game 1 against the Rangers.
Penguins starting goalie Tristan Jarry will miss at least the first couple of games of the series against the Rangers after suffering an injury to his foot on April 14 against the New York Islanders. Back-up Casey DeSmith will get the start against the Rangers, which will be the biggest opportunity of his career to date. DeSmith has had a pretty good year with a .914 save percentage, however, the question is will he be ready to face a full New York lineup. The injury to Jarry and DeSmith being the only option to face Rangers’ goalie Igor Shesterkin, who is arguably the best goalie in the league, begs the question should the Penguins have gotten more help for Jarry. Only time will tell, but fans will be holding their breath and hoping DeSmith is up to the challenge
The End of an Era?
There is no doubt that the Pittsburgh Penguins are one of hockey’s most elite franchises. This season marks the 16th year in a row the team has made the playoffs, which is the longest-running streak in any North American sport. However, their below-average play through April has fans wondering if this could be the end of an amazing run.
My name is Sylvie McCarthy and I am a graduate of the University of North Florida. I have spent time as a sports writer for the Casper Star Tribune in Casper, Wyoming and the Picayune Item in Picayune, Mississippi. Sports is my passion, and I am so excited to be writing for The Hockey Writers where I will be covering the Pittsburgh Penguins.