In recent weeks, fans have grown impatient with the Penguins and understandably so. It’s not easy to watch a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion struggle to be more than a seemingly one dimensional team.
This prompted Wyatt Fiedler and myself to collaborate and give our opinions on why the Penguins can and can’t win the Stanley Cup for a third straight reason. Wyatt took the less optimistic outlook while I explored the hopeful side of things.
Why The Pens Can’t Win… -Wyatt
Prior to the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, no team has won back to back Stanley Cup championships since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in both the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup Final. That is evidence that it is incredibly hard to win two Stanley Cups in a row especially in the salary cap era (2005-present). Surprisingly, the team that won most recently to the Red Wings was the Penguins again in 1992. That being said, the historical odds are not in favor of the Penguins. There have been eight back to back champions (some more than just two) since the NHL expanded beyond just six teams in the league. The Penguins, for now, are the only team in the salary cap so far to win back to back championships. They tie the Chicago Blackhawks at three Stanley Cups for the most in the era. Believe it or not, no team in the expansion era has won just three Stanley Cups, if they had won more than two, it was four in a row. So, if we do see the Penguins bring home a third cup in a row; get excited because chances are we will see a fourth.
It is evident at the beginning of this season that there is some wear and tear for the players that went through both Stanley Cup Final runs. Over both years the Penguins battled injuries deep into each run. Kris Letang missed the second half of the season and entirety of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. Both years the team had to play deep into June in some of the most rough hockey that is played. There’s no denying that each player has to give it their all, especially to bring home two cups. Sidney Crosby is one player who has. He brought home the MVP of each Stanley Cup final to show how hard he worked through both runs. The shear stress of each deep season will hold the Penguins back on their quest for a third.
The Penguins are not playing well enough defensively to support the team, especially the goalies on the backend. Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are getting peppered in the Penguins’ defensive zone. They are fifth worst in the league when it comes to goals against, having given up 111 goals in the first 35 games of the 2017-18 season. The defensemen look slow as a whole, but it is easy to single out Letang. Letang is almost at an assist per game this year which is incredible, but his lack of defensive ability overshadows his offensive accomplishments. Against the New York Rangers, defenseman Brady Skjei beat Letang cleanly on the wing and set his teammate up for a goal. Once Letang can find his defensive footing, as a leader on this team it will cause the rest of the defensive core to step up. If he can’t, the Penguins will falter in their quest for the coveted threepeat.
Why The Pens Can Win… -Cody
The Pittsburgh Penguins have overcome a lot of adversity over the past few seasons. Head coach Mike Sullivan has done an outstanding job navigating this team through some tough stretches. The Penguins are currently sitting at 17-15-3 and have lost 5 of their last 7 games. They’re kind of broken right now.
It’s not like we haven’t seen this before. December 31, 2015 was the date when the Penguins three-peat really engaged. It’s when Sullivan’s team clicked and began breaking out of their offensive slump. I get the feeling maybe they can get some New Year’s Resolution magic and fix this team.
You’ve got to be optimistic about the roster changes as well. This is far from the finished product. They’ve already acquired Jamie Oleksiak from the Dallas Stars. They currently possess 8 NHL defensemen on the roster, a rarity for most teams now-a-days. You’d have to think one of those will be cast aside in a package to acquire a third-line center. Daniel Sprong still awaits in the wings.
Let’s be real here, Murray has seemingly been a lot better as of late. Murray has shown he can put a team on his back and carry them through to a championship as he’s done for two playoff runs now. He started off the season in a fashion where he couldn’t really get much worse. He’s ever so slowly improved.
The team lacks the veteran depth they had the past two years, but Jim Rutherford finally has had enough and I expect a significant amount of roster turnover through the coming weeks. Jolts of energy like Sprong could be inserted. Trades to bring in some fresher legs likely will be made. Murray’s play is getting stronger.
In the NHL, all you need to do is make the playoffs and you can make the Finals (see Nashville last season who was the 16th overall team out of 16 to make the playoffs). The Penguins just need to make it and they could very well bring a third straight title to Pittsburgh.