With Evgeni Malkin out for the rest of the regular season and the start of the post-season, the Penguins as an organization now have an excuse if they miss the playoffs altogether or have a quick early exit.
That could be a good thing for some in upper management but injuries or not, no one in the organization should be happy with where the Penguins have been the last two seasons.
It was less than two years ago when the organization made major changes in firing the coach and General Manager and it wasn’t to start some retool/rebuild.
The move was made to go from good to great again in a short span as David Morehouse made it bright and clear.
“This is a lot different than a team that needs a complete overhaul,” Morehouse said on the day Ray Shero was fired. “We’re a good team. We just have high expectations. What we’re trying to do is get from good to great. We’re in the top quartile of the league in everything we do. A lot of teams would like to be where we are.”
Ron Burkle on that same day.
“We aren’t happy to be in the top quartile. If you make it to second round, you’re in the top quartile. That’s good enough for some. It isn’t where we want to be.”
After squeaking into the playoffs last season, the Penguins have been hovering around the 7th/8th seed all season and were already going to be a longshot to get into that top quartile (advance to the second round) with a healthy Malkin.
If Malkin has played his last game of the season, these numbers should be looked at more closely when evaluating this group.
When Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were each in the lineup this season, the Penguins are 29-20-7 on the season. That is just two games above .500 and a 95 point pace over 82 games. Under Mike Sullivan, the Penguins are 14-10-4 when Malkin and Crosby are both in the lineup and were 15-10-3 under Johnston with Malkin and Crosby in the lineup.
That is just not good enough and why ownership shouldn’t buy the injury excuse if things go south for the Penguins from here.
Missing the playoffs with Malkin would have been a total embarrassment for the organization but the team still deserves some heat if they don’t get in. There’s no excuses this group with a healthy Crosby, Letang, Fleury and Phil Kessel (if you consider him a core player still) shouldn’t be able to hold off on a rebuilding Flyers team that’s whole mindset as an organization has been getting younger and creating cap space for when that team has a chance to be really good in a year or two.
The Penguins have a history of winning without one of the star centers for a long stretch and both when that happened in 2010-2011.
In the 10-11 season, Evgeni Malkin missed 39 games and was lost for the season following a torn ACL in early February. Sidney Crosby missed the final 41 games due to a concussion.
Pittsburgh finished the season with 106 points, tied for the second most in the conference, one point from winning the conference and took a 3-1 series lead against the Lightning before losing in seven games.
That was with a forward group of Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Mark Letestu, Alex Kovalev, Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Mike Rupp, Craig Adams, Arron Asham. The team was also playing without Matt Cooke who was suspended for the playoffs.
Without Crosby for the final 41 games, Pittsburgh went 23-13-5. That’s a 102 point pace over 82 games. Without both Malkin and Crosby for the final 29 games, Pittsburgh went 15-10-4, still a 96 point pace.
The following season Sidney Crosby played in just 22 games and Pittsburgh again finished with the second most points in the conference, 108, again just one point from being tied for the most points in the conference.