Peaking at the Proper Time; The Penguins Paradox of Finding Health and Consistent Play

Mediocrity, it is certainly one way to describe the Penguins play of late.

Their wins can be broken down into simply taking advantage of what is in front of you, while their losses have come from little effort and lack of dictating play. Some claim it is the toll of so many injuries finally taking its toll on the team, others quote from the book of a post Olympic slump, but either way the team is not improving.

Or are they?

While it is an argument that is destined to fall on deaf ears of aggravated fans, the Penguins are in a better position than they have been the past three seasons.

At 6-5-1 in March the Penguins are barely breaching the plateau of average. This would be a problem for Pittsburgh if history dictated otherwise.

Look at the Penguins record down the stretch for the last few seasons.

2013 – 23-3-1 The Penguins were the most dominant team in the league to end the season, despite failing to win the President’s Trophy from the Blackhawks. They would be swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Bruins.

2012 – 14-3-2 The Penguins again finished the season on supremely strong record, but failed to win more than two games in the opening round against the Philadelphia Flyers

2011 – 12-4-2 The Penguins, absent of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, managed to finish the season on another hot streak, but failed to get out of the first round when they lost to Tampa Bay in a full seven game series.

Over the past three seasons Pittsburgh has entered the Stanley Cup playoffs as one of, if not the, hottest teams in the entire league. You would be hard pressed to find a team that has a collective record better than this over the past three seasons leading up to the playoffs, but it only resulted in a total of two victorious rounds in the playoffs.

This is a price of peaking too early. The team becomes set on winning, even though they are not winning in a style that makes them a “tough out” in the playoffs. Bad habits become comfortable when they do not bite you and cause the team to lose. Something the Penguins became all too familiar with.

It is because of this that many Penguin fans need not worry about their current play. As we see here, late season success is not indicative of playoff success. The Boston Bruins of last season finished with a record of 3-5-2 in their final ten games.  Even the Los Angeles Kings of 2012 only finished the season on a 5-3-2 record, winning 11 of 18 to end the months of March and April.

It is not set in stone that the hottest team to end the season is the best prepared for the playoffs. Health and the return of healthy players are a huge boost to a team. The injuries also force players into different roles, expanding their game skills and providing the club with more depth.  

Update: Unfortunately for the Penguins Evgeni Malkin will be out for 2-3 weeks with a foot injury. This will give Brandon Sutter a chance in a bigger offensive role and allow for Pittsburgh to get another extensive look at Jayson Megna.