Lets make it completely clear that I’m a diehard Pittsburgh sports fan so I may unintentionally show some bias for my city…but the fact that the Penguins won the East division is something that needs to be praised heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of all major sports teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins hold the longest streak of seasons making the playoffs which is now at 15 counting this year. The consistency the organization has brought over the past 2 decades has been nothing short of a privilege to watch.
This season was much different than other previous seasons because instead of playing a normal 82 game regular season each team was played 8 times in the East division to create a 56 game season due to Covid-19. This means the Penguins had to play the Capitals, Flyers, Islanders, Devils, Sabres, Bruins, and Rangers 8 times each. The outlook on the Pens before the season is that they were a borderline playoff team that could possibly sneak in as a 4th seed and make a run. Here is a preseason poll from the “experts” showing the the likelihood of each team in the East Division to make the playoffs…
To be fair, the “experts” got 3 of the 4 playoff teams correct but had the division winning Penguins down at #5. The Flyers goaltending struggled all year and proved to be costly as they missed out on the playoffs during a extremely underwhelming year.
The Penguins started the season 5-5-1 and the General Manager Jim Rutherford opted to step away from his duties, so the Pens hired GM Ron Hextall and President Brian Burke. The change was a shock to many fans because Rutherford had been a mastermind for the Pens as he was the one who acquired the legend Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino, and Justin Shultz to name just a handful of his key moves. These were the same acquisitions that led to the Pens winning back to back cups in 2016 and 2017 so to see Rutherford step away was unfortunate.
For whatever reason, this move proved to be a turning point for the pens as they went 32-11-2 the rest of the regular season under the new management. Burke and Hextall also made an important move at the trade deadline picking up Los Angeles Kings Center Jeff Carter (#77) who had a great transition to the Pens lineup. He had 9 goals and 2 assists in just 14 games on the Penguins to finish the regular season which is more than enough as a 3rd line center. Carter knows what it takes to win…he won 2 cups with the Kings and is a leader in the locker room. He plays the right way and is extremely fast for being 36 years old. Carter will be an important asset for the Pens if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Pens were top 3 in the league in man games lost due to injury which is just another piece of adversity they had to overcome throughout the season. Evgeni Malkin (#71) missed over 20 games which was a huge missing piece for the Pens during the last quarter of the season. It will be nice to have him back for the playoffs since he has been a big part of the Pens 3 Cup runs since he arrived in 2004.
Pittsburgh will play the Islanders in Round 1 who got 4th in the East Division to finish the season. The two teams played in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Islanders swept the Pens in a quick 4 game series, but the Pens team is much different than 2 years ago. Comparing this series to the one in 2019 is pretty irrelevant as the Pens whole defense has changed and the 4 lines have much more consistency all the way through. So this begs the question…Can the Pens make a run at yet another Stanley Cup?…this is yet to be determined but it’s without a doubt exciting to see the Pens back in the playoffs competing. The Pens are buzzing heading into the postseason and PPG Paints arena will be back to full capacity come June 1st…this could be the perfect storm given the Pens had the most wins on home ice of any team in the NHL. LETS GO PENS!!!!