It Is Getting Late Early For the Pittsburgh Penguins

Glenn Kaplan

The Pittsburgh Penguins had high expectations heading into the 2021-2022 regular season. However, Pittsburgh has had to deal with key injuries to superstar players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They have also had to deal with some COVID outbreaks.

They were on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks and lost to them 3-2 in a shootout on the road. Chicago is one of the worst teams in the NHL and even though it is only November, it is getting late early for Pittsburgh. They have not won on the road against them since the 2009 season and it’s whatever.

If the season ended right now, they would be out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. They are currently in last place in the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a 4-3-4 record with 12 points so far this season.

Even though they are in last place in the division, Pittsburgh isn’t even a bottom-five team in the NHL. In the current NHL Draft Order, the earliest the Pittsburgh Penguins would potentially be drafting is ninth overall. This is an extremely deep 2022 NHL Draft Class.

I hope general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke hold onto that pick. They are going to need it to potentially rebuild for the future in the post-Crosby era. We don’t know when he will be back, considering the fact that Sidney Crosby is currently sidelined due to COVID-19. Head coach Mike Sullivan is also sidelined due to COVID-19. This team misses Mike Sullivan right now and he is one of the better coaches in the NHL.

When he comes back, Mike Sullivan is going to have to use the one-day at a time approach and find a way to make this team get better despite the circumstances.

Todd Reidren is currently the head coach in the meantime. He was a head coach for two years with the Washington Capitals from 2018-2020. Reidren came back to Pittsburgh as an assistant coach in 2020. He is one of the reasons why the penalty kill has been really good this season.

The power play has been below average this season. They are scoring on 10.81 percent of them and that is because of a lack of talent without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Jake Guentzel has been playing better as of late. He leads the team eight points in 10 games so far this season. Guentzel has three goals and five assists, with a plus/minus of -3.

Danton Heinen and Jeff Carter have also played well. Dominik Simon and Evan Rodrigues need to both be riding the bench with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby coming back.

Kasperi Kapanen has only played well in one game this season and that was against the Minnesota Wild this past Saturday night when he recorded his first career hat trick.

This is a loaded division and they will have nine road games coming up over the next 12 games. This is potentially very dangerous territory and it won’t be easy.

Five of these teams in this division will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs I feel like. Being below average to good won’t cut it this season. They have to be great or they will not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2022.

The Carolina Hurricanes (10-1-0 record with 20 points so far this season) are currently in first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Tristan Jarry has played in nine games so far this season for Pittsburgh. His record is 4-2-3 with a .926 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, along with zero shutouts. Jarry has been historically bad in shootouts so far this season and also in his career. He has given up seven goals on 10 shots. Tristan Jarry also gave up a penalty shot goal earlier in the season.

The Pittsburgh media thinks Casey DeSmith needs to be the goalie in shootouts. DeSmith has not played well in two games so far this season. He has a .878 save percentage and a 4.47 GAA. With all of these games coming up, Casey DeSmith needs to perform better. If he doesn’t, is it possible they call up Filip Lindberg from the minors?

I think the organization wants to keep him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) so he can get game reps for his development. He is only 22 years old and has a bright future. In five games so far this season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, he has a 4-1 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA.

Louis Domingue was brought in as the third goalie to start the season, but he is not the ideal candidate to be Jarrys; backup goalie if needed.

Andy Chido is the new goaltending coach in Pittsburgh.

The defense has been a complete train wreck this season. Other than Kris Letang, nothing has worked. Letang has played in seven games so far this season and has scored one goal and recorded five assists. His plus/minus rating is 1.

John Marino has not been the same. Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel are about to come off of COVID-19 protocol. Brian Dumoulin is currently in COVID-19 protocol. Juuso Riikola and Mark Friedman have not been very good as a third-pairing. Mike Matheson has been a complete train wreck and was so much better last season.

They lowkey miss Cody Ceci. He signed with the Edmonton Oilers this past offseason. Pierre-Olivier Joseph needs to be sent back down to the AHL and he is clearly not ready yet.

The other teams that are good in the Metropolitan Division are the New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New Jersey Devils, and the New York Islanders. Translation: Every single team in the Metropolitan Division can make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This team can not wait much longer to get healthy bodies. They need chemistry and cohesion. If they can’t find it, it might be possible they could be sellers at the trade deadline this season. Those are words this fanbase doesn’t want to hear, but it could also benefit them in the long run. Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin all have expiring contracts at the end of the season, but Rust is the only player that would be for sale.

Marcus Pettersson could be another player for sale if things continue to go south. I never would have thought the losses of Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann despite the Crosby and Malkin absence would be the difference between first and eighth place this season. They are both playing on the Seattle Kraken now.

When and if everyone gets healthy:

Line 1: Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Kasperi Kapanen

Line 2: Danton Heinen-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust

Line 3: Drew O’Connor-Jeff Carter-Brian Boyle

Line 4: Brock McGinn-Teddy Blueger-Jason Zucker

Defense 1: Kris Letang-Brian Dumoulin

Defense 2: Marcus Pettersson-John Marino

Defense 3: Mike Matheson-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith

Healthy Scratches: Dominik Simon, Evan Rodrigues, Zach Aston-Reese, Mark Freidman, and Juuso Riikola.

The Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-4 record, 12 points) next game will be at home against a struggling Florida Panthers hockey team (10-2-1 record, 21 points) on Thursday night.

The Chicago Blackhawks (3-9-2 record, 8 points) next game will be against the worst team in the NHL in the Arizona Coyotes (1-10-1 record, 3 points) at home on Friday night.

-Glenn Kaplan, 12oz Sports Contributor, Live Monday’s at 3 p.m. ET & Thursday at 11 a.m. ET on 12oz Sports

Photo Credit: Twitter @penguins

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