Pittsburgh Penguins
Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Penguins Must Address Some Tough Questions

Earlier this week, I wrote about the difficult predicament the Washington Capitals are in after they lost in the first round for the third straight year, but their longtime division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are actually in a similar situation. Following back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins made the second round once, in 2018, and have failed to win a playoff series since. In last year’s bubble, Pittsburgh failed to even make the postseason, falling to the Montreal Canadiens in embarrassing fashion in the qualifying round. Like the Caps, it makes sense that the Pens management wants to keep their core together in order to keep striving for deep playoff runs, but a first-round exit at the hands of the New York Islanders for the second time in three years will have GM Ron Hextall asking some tough questions this summer.

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Who Will Be The Starting Goaltender Next Season?

During the 2021 first-round matchup, Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry committed a comedy of errors against the Islanders. He was beaten at his glove side all throughout the series, assisted Josh Bailey on his Game 5 double-overtime winner, and was responsible for the nail in the coffin for the Penguins when Brock Nelson scored through his five-hole to make the score 5-3 in Game 6. An All-Star last season, many believed that Jarry was a young stud who could take Matt Murray’s place in the crease after he left for Ottawa, but his severe dip in form has made him public enemy number one in Pittsburgh, as the team is struggling to even find a competent backup for him. A reunion with team legend Marc-Andre Fleury or a big free agency splash could be the cards for the Penguins.

Will Mike Sullivan Remain As Head Coach?

Head Coach Mike Sullivan was a crucial component to the Pens championships a few years ago. After getting off to a sluggish start in the 2015-2016 season, Sullivan was brought in as a midseason hire and instantly pushed the Pens roster to success in back-to-back years. He was well-liked by the players and management, but some doubts regarding his future are creeping in. Despite having a better record and more talented roster than the Islanders, it felt like the Penguins shot themselves in the foot at times, and Sullivan was at least partially responsible. A lackluster special teams performance, combined with the overall terrible results, make it more than likely that Sullivan is on the hot seat.

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Is This Core Still Good Enough To Win It All?

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain one of the NHL’s dynamic duos and two of the league’s best players, but age is starting to catch up to them. Crosby is still easily one of the best players in the world, but he is not reaching new heights like he was in 2016. He was instrumental in both Stanley Cup triumphs and rightfully deserved the Conn Smythe award each time, but that Crosby might be a relic of the past at this point, as he turns 34 this August. Kris Letang remains a quality top-pair defenseman, but he is also getting up there in age. There is Jake Guentzel, but he is one of the Pens’ only real bonafide top-6 wingers. Crosby and Malkin have been able to produce with just about anyone on their wings for years, but their window is closing.

In conclusion, the Pittsburgh Penguins must take a long and hard look at their team this summer. Even though some tough decisions might have to be made, Penguins fans must face the reality that this is not the same team that took the league by storm in 2016 and 2017.

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