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The Pittsburgh Penguins 2021 have far exceeded expectations. Many people – both inside and outside Pittsburgh – saw this season as a potential fallback year for the pens.
At best, many thought they would make their way into the playoffs as the fourth team in a crowded East Division. In the worst case scenario, their consecutive playoff seasons would end before they hit 15.
I was in this first camp and more or less picked the penguins to make the playoffs out of habit. And because I had to see her miss before I wanted to believe that this could happen.
While I was barely optimistic enough to believe that they would make the postseason, I was never convinced that they would be masters of this big Eastern division. You couldn’t have got me into that theory either, if you’d told me in advance how bad your injury situation would be.
We’re used to the annual log jams on the NHL injury list in the Pittsburgh area. With the preseason list being as thin as it was in recent campaigns, the typical string of Injury Bug bouts seemed a little too damaging to overcome in 2021.
The logic is doomed, however. Here we are. The penguins have conquered the east and the playoffs are just around the corner.
Head Coach Mike Sullivan’s team deserves credit for their perseverance through injuries, coronavirus logs, and a tough schedule. It also deserves a collective stick rooster for its consistency.
The penguins have never lost more than two games in a row. And their score is not artificially inflated even by a long hot play stretch. The pens have never won more than six games in a row.
« That’s what we’ve been focusing on this year, » said defender Brian Dumoulin during Monday’s Zoom interviews. « We really controlled what we could. We really focused on the next game and we’re not too far ahead. Think about the future and the possibilities of what we can be as a group. »
If you are at this point in history waiting for a huge « yes, but » from me, you are very welcome. You have to be a regular reader.
You know me too well. They are thrilled by the fact that despite my desire to toss rose petals at the penguins’ feet for everything they have accomplished so far in 2021, when they go out in the first round of the playoffs for a third straight season, all of this Praise is shaken away like an Etch A Sketch drawing.
We can promote Sullivan as NHL Coach of the Year. We can request Sidney Crosby’s admission to the Hart and Selke Trophy examination. We can praise the Jeff Carter acquisition as a deal that brought in greater rewards than skeptics like me assumed.
But if these guys don’t score much in the playoffs and Sullivan’s team is stuck, a lot of that dialogue is going to sound hollow in a few weeks’ time. Because that means that the Penguins have not won a fourth playoff series in a row.
In view of the regular season trials that we have just outlined for this club, is that too tough an assessment? Some of you may think so.
But not me. After all, their 2019 and 2020 playoff failures fueled cynicism until 2021.
For a team as rich in talent and championships as the Penguins, it was downright humiliating to face the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens as they did in those two series.
« We’ve had some early exits in the last few years, » said striker Jake Guentzel. “I think it drives you even more. You want to win so much more. »
The penguins have returned to the underworld they experienced from 2010 to 2015. They’re a championship franchise that continues to thrive, yet still leaves a fan base feeling like they’ve just seen a team underperform.
This was not the case in 2018. In extra time they lost a tight six-game series against the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the Washington Capitals.
Since then, the penguins have managed not to slide down the hill in the Stanley Cup fight. But they stalled in their attempt to climb it again.
« We’re certainly not happy with where we are, » said Sullivan. “We know we still have a lot of work to do. We know how difficult the challenge is ahead of us. And we will use everything we have in our power to be successful. »
If the penguins win their first series against the islanders, I think how will they end up? And who is beating them?
If they lose a 7-game back-and-forth battle against Boston, I can live with it. If the Bruins are sweeping them like 2013, I can’t.
If they lose a seven-game epic to the capitals because Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson put on a show, my opinion of 2021 won’t get much worse.
If they fall on the caps in five games with the half strength guys and Conor Sheary or Daniel Sprong carrying the load, we all have the right to be disappointed.
The penguins deserve credit for exceeding expectations. But you also need to realize how much these expectations have been aroused.
The franchise’s regular season was classy. However, it is instantly forgotten unless these players avoid their recent playoff pitfalls.
Brian Metzer from Penguins Radio Network will join me on the podcast on Tuesday. We’re talking about challenges the penguins face in trying to clean up recent playoff disasters. We watch the upcoming matchup against the islanders in the first round. And we learn how the battle between the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals can also go.
Tim Benz is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or on Twitter. All tweets could be republished. All emails can be published unless otherwise stated.
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