PITTSBURGH (AP) — The longest energetic playoff streak in North American skilled sports activities is alive and nicely. It’s the newest iteration of the group that has reached the postseason 16 straight years and counting that is in bother.
The Pittsburgh Penguins head into Friday’s regular-season finale looking for consistency, urgency and possibly a bit of swagger. A stable month of wildly uneven play will try this.
A stunning contender for the Metropolitan Division title on the All-Star break contemplating the rash of accidents to high-profile gamers like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and brushes with COVID-19 that left head coach Mike Sullivan scrambling at instances to place a lineup collectively, the Penguins are in a 6-9-2 funk.
The impressed performances that dotted the primary half have eroded right into a hodgepodge of meh. For each 11-goal outburst towards the Detroit Red Wings, there was a dismal setback like a 4-1 loss to going-nowhere Philadelphia or a bafflingly listless three intervals towards Edmonton and star Connor McDavid.
Instead of home-ice benefit when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin subsequent week, Pittsburgh heads into the ultimate recreation of the season hoping to merely keep away from falling into the second wild-card spot and a date with both Florida or Carolina.
Sullivan tried to shake issues up towards the Oilers, together with placing the highest line of Crosby, All-Star Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust again collectively. Nothing labored. The prime line did not muster some extent and the Penguins have been outskated and outworked for the overwhelming majority of 60 minutes.
“Obviously, we’d like to feel better about our game,” Sullivan stated afterward. “It’s hard to feel good about your game unless you get results. We’ve been sporadic lately.”
The Penguins have scored 56 goals and allowed 56 goals during the 17-game stretch that began with a 4-3 shootout loss to Buffalo on March 23. The team that has prided itself on Sullivan’s mantra of “playing the right way” hasn’t exactly tightened things up with All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry out indefinitely with a foot injury.
Pittsburgh has been outshot in each of its five games since Jarry went down and has given up at least 40 shots in three of its last four contests. Not exactly encouraging considering what’s looming next week.
Defenseman Marcus Pettersson pointed to the finale as a chance to get some confidence, something that’s been in alarmingly short supply for a group led by the core of Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, players who happen to have their names on the Stanley Cup three times.
“We’ve got to play towards (confidence),” Pettersson said. “Got to play laborious, play for one another with some enthusiasm, as a result of it’s not going to return by itself.”
Sullivan praised his staff for its relentless resilience in the midst of the yr, however there was vital regression of late. Malkin, who missed the primary three months of the season whereas recovering from offseason knee surgical procedure, has been sensible at instances. He has 19 targets in 40 video games, but Pittsburgh’s file when he is performed this yr is 21-14-5.
That’s not terrible by any stretch. It’s additionally not ok to maintain tempo with the leaders in a convention the place all eight groups have reached the 100-point mark. Putting the Penguins’ sporadic play on Malkin’s broad shoulders is ill-advised. Yet there was a trickle-down impact of kinds. Having two strains anchored by future Hall of Famers can result in the type of up-and-down, chance-for-chance play that places an terrible lot in your goaltender.
While Casey DeSmith has been greater than advantageous — his .914 save share is inside earshot of Jarry’s .919 — he is additionally been below fairly heavy strain at instances.
The weekend gives an opportunity at a tough reset no matter the place the Penguins wind up within the standings. It additionally offers the staff’s leaders a chance to assist their teammates determine issues out.
“I know this group is capable,” Sullivan stated. “They’re an accomplished group. There’s a wealth of experience in that locker room. We need to draw on that experience now more than ever.”
In the big picture, Sullivan is right. Yet Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff series since 2018, when its bid for a three-peat ended in the second round against Washington.
The Penguins are 3-13 in their last 16 postseason games and for all of their consistency through the years, change could be coming if they make another quick exit.
Fenway Sports Group purchased the team last fall from Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle. Longtime CEO David Morehouse stepped down on Thursday. Malkin and Letang are set to be free agents this summer. While their legacy is intact no matter how the next few weeks ago, there’s a real chance this stand could be the team’s last one as currently constructed.
“You just try to enjoy it as much as you can,” Crosby stated Thursday. “Because you know it’s not something that’s going to last forever.”
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