The Writing is on the Wall; Pittsburgh's Depth Does Not Spark Confidence Towards a Cup Run
It is a tough pill to swallow, knowing that your team no longer has a quality shot at a Stanley Cup.
With injuries hampering the return of a two top six forwards and a top four defensemen the Penguins are just not fully equipped to go through the rigors of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is just not a feasible request.
To beat a team like the Boston Bruins or the Philadelphia Flyers without Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Paul Martin, the Penguins would have to have their depth come through in major ways. This is assuming the Penguins currently have the depth to pull this off.
Although Beau Bennett has returned and played well since his return, he is not enough. Pittsburgh would need defensive minded center Marcel Goc back to aid in penalty killing and face offs. They will need Malkin to return healthy and Letang to return to normal.
This creates a difficult situation. Although he is cleared to play, Kris Letang suffered a stroke at the age of 26. There is no more normal for him this season. He will be hesitant and he will be cautious. That is not what makes Letang a great player. Malkin’s foot injury is unknown to the general public, so to speculate that he will return 100% healthy is just ignorance.
Paul Martin is set to return Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets and although he is completely healed, there is no saying in whether or not he will be at full speed come playoff time.
All of these questions combined with the already questionable depth at forward for Pittsburgh hints to an early exit in the playoffs. Emerging from the first round victorious is not good enough anymore for this franchise. Sidney Crosby didn’t play like an MVP this season to just have his team flop out of the playoffs once again.
Brandon Sutter is proving to be a colossal disappointment for the Penguins as well. He was known for his two way play, but apparently left half of that in Carolina and depending on which night you watch him you can figure out which half he forgot. His inconsistent play has cost the Penguins dearly down the stretch.
Third line forwards such as Brian Gibbons, Tanner Glass, and Taylor Pyatt are truly fourth line players in this league. To expect them to compete with the third lines of Boston and Philadelphia are unreasonable.
There is actually little hope right now that the Pittsburgh Penguins have what it takes and that statement brings forth a few terrifying realities.
1. Dan Bylsma is actually a better coach than given credit for. How he has turned this team into a 50 win team in the regular season speaks to a great deal of his system. If given a team with depth and stability there is no doubt in my mind he is capable of winning another Stanley Cup.
2. Sidney Crosby is easily the Hart Trophy favorite. Crosby has had a hand in around 44% of the Penguins goals this season, almost 7% higher than any other forward. His 100 points on the season have kept the Penguins in games that they probably had no chance winning.
3. Ray Shero has failed to address the positions of true need when it comes to winning a Stanley Cup. Even when we look at last season, Ray Shero went for the Hail Mary instead of the up the gut run on 4th and 1. He brought in guys that would be needed on a team that wasn’t in first place, guys that added to a strength and not guys that addressed a weakness.
If Pittsburgh wants to make a legitimate run this season they will need to have their stars playing their best games in years. The complementary players cannot faulter and the younger depth needs to grow up fast. It isn’t unlikely that Crosby, Malkin, and their lines start to have great success, but it is likely that the lack of production from the third and fourth lines kill said success.
It is a reality that is sinking in fast for Penguin fans. This team has too much talent at the top to be held back by nothing at the bottom. Pittsburgh must consider trading some top talent to address the bottom six in the offseason, despite whatever happens in the playoffs.
The sad fact is, Pittsburgh overachieves in the regular season because of MVP players like Crosby and Malkin; however, their careers will only be defined by not being able to win a second cup.
A fact that cannot be at the fault of these two players.