- The Pittsburgh Penguins are dead last in the Metropolitan Division
- Will the Penguins miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 years?
- Is Pittsburgh still worth a wager?
It’s November 20th, the season is over 1/4 of the way done, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are five points out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL. They’re last in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2006, Sidney Crosby’s rookie year. They blew a three goal lead to the Buffalo Sabres last night and proceeded to lose the game on a bad goal in overtime.
Of course, their average odds have gotten much longer in response to their early season struggles. Should you write the Penguins off, or are they worth a wager? Should we expect them to miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 years? Read on to find out!
2019 Stanley Cup Odds
|Which Team Will Win the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals?||Odds (11/20/2018)|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||+400|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+500|
The Penguins Have a Tough Hill to Climb
It’s fairly well documented that if a team isn’t in a playoff position by American Thanksgiving (which the Penguins won’t be, given that they only play once between now and Thursday), they’ve really got their backs against the wall. Since 2011, 78% of teams in a playoff position at American Thanksgiving don’t give up their playoff spot, and the Penguins have four teams they’ll need to leapfrog to get back in.
The Penguins have struggled mightily in all areas. Their offensive statistics were given a boost after back to back 9-1 and 5-0 victories over the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, respectively, but the Penguins have been rather pedestrian offensively the rest of the year. Their defense (which is missing key contributor Justin Schultz, who’s out long-term with a broken leg) is in shambles, and Casey DeSmith and Matt Murray are both struggling.
There are no fancy stats that suggest that the Penguins are getting unlucky, or that they’re bound to regress to the mean of contender level play, either.
They rank between 13th and 17th league-wide in goals for, goals against, penalty kill %, team save percentage, and PDO (Even Strength shooting % + Save %, widely recognized to be an excellent indicator of luck). Their powerplay is well above average at 7th (how could it not be?) and they’re in fact shooting at an above average clip.
The Penguins rank between 13th and 17th league-wide in goals for, goals against, penalty kill %, team save percentage, and PDO.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford sure isn’t afraid to make a bold move and has already shipped out Carl Hagelin in exchange for struggling former Los Angeles King Tanner Pearson. Whether the Penguins benefit from the trade is still to be determined, but we’d bet on more shakeups coming for the Penguins. Rutherford isn’t noted for his patience.
What all of these statistics suggest is that there is no easy fix for the Penguins to count on, and nothing is just going to “click” without better performances for their roster. Things need to be markedly different for the Penguins if they’re going to be relevant this season, especially amongst their defense and goaltenders.
The Penguins Are Too Talented to Count Out
However, it’s still far too early to write the Penguins off. Just have a glance at this roster. Not included in these lines is a struggling Matt Murray, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the fact that he’s won two Stanley Cups already, and is only 24 years old. He’s going to bounce back, and he didn’t just forget how to stop pucks.
Sidney Crosby is out, but he’s expected to be back in the next few games, which will give the Penguins the ability to move sniper Jake Guentzel back to the wing and Brassard to the no. 3 center position. No matter how you slice it, this is pretty remarkable depth.
Pittsburgh Penguins Depth Chart
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Phil Kessel||Evgeni Malkin||Tanner Pearson|
|Derick Brassard||Jake Guentzel||Patric Hornqvist|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Bryan Rust||Riley Sheahan|
|Derek Grant||Dominik Simon||Daniel Sprong|
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Olli Maatta||Jamie Oleksiak|
|Jack Johnson||Chad Ruhwedel|
If we were to have a serious quibble with the Penguins, it would be their defense. Their bottom pairing is definitely below league average (the big deal for an over the hill Jack Johnson was a headscratcher at the time, and still is), but the defense as a whole is still playing below its potential.
If you still want more reason for optimism, you don’t have to look much further than recent Penguins history. In the 2008-2009 season, the team had a 27-25-5 record and sat 5 points out of a playoff position (as mentioned above, that’s how the same amount of points their out right now). They fired head coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma, and they went 18-3-4 the rest of the season, finishing 45-28-9, good for 2nd in the Atlantic and 4th in the Eastern Conference. Oh, and they also won the Stanley Cup that season, the first of the Crosby-Malkin era.
Granted, the 2008-09 season and the 2018-19 season aren’t perfectly analogous, and its highly unlikely that Mike Sullivan gets axed this season, but there’s still lots of reason to be optimistic.
After all, the core players in the Penguins 2008-09 campaign were Malkin, Crosby, and Letang – the same core of the 2018-19 season. These players have been there before, and have a proven track record of overcoming early-season adversity and translating into cup rings.
The Penguins Are Worth a Wager
Given that across online sportsbooks, the Penguins 2019 Stanley Cup odds are +2200, we’d say their worth a wager. If they make it back into the playoffs, which is certainly possible, they’ve got the depth and experience to make a serious splash once they get there.
If the Penguins claw their way back into the playoff, you can bet that one of Crosby or Malkin is in contention for a Hart Trophy.
Plus, if you’re a fan of a team other than the Penguins, you should be praying that the Penguins find a way to put it all back together and make it to the playoffs. The thought of them having a legitimate chance at Jack Hughes should send a shiver up the spine of all 30 other NHL teams.
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