The 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins have been quite the roller coaster ride.
There have been some ups, there have been some downs, and they always seem to end up right back where they started with a few people feeling a little sick. Every time it seems like they are going to turn things around continue on the right track, something happens to derail whatever progress they made.
After losing three of their first five games to start the season, they steamrolled their way through Canada on a four-game winning streak that saw them outscore Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver by a 23-6.
They followed that up by immediately losing nine out of 10 to put them in an early season hole in the standings. The general manager threatened changes, made one significant one, and still seems like he could make another at any moment.
Once they snapped out of that funk, they went on a five-game point streak that saw them collect eight out of a possible 10 points in the standings with a pretty favorable schedule over the next couple of weeks sitting in front of them.
All they have done since is lose 6-3 in Colorado (a game where they fell behind 3-0 and needed a Sidney Crosby hat trick to bring them even) and then completely fall apart at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. The game in Colorado is at least somewhat acceptable. It was a tough break in the schedule having to go from Winnipeg (where they played a brutally tough game to squeeze out two points in the standings) to Denver as part of a back-to-back. The Avalanche are good and the Penguins maybe just got caught by the schedule.
But the Flyers game on Saturday. That was a different story.
That was supposed to be one of the games that was going to continue their recent upswing and get them back on track. They had a struggling team that has seemingly fired a new person in the organization every day, is down to its third-string goalie, and is one of the few teams still below the Penguins in the standings. And they got them at home and even struck first with a goal just one minute into the game. Instead of sending them on their way to a win, they completely self destructed the rest of the way in a sea of turnovers, missed assignments, over-passing, and the same general sloppy play that has plagued them for most of the season.
Kris Letang, who has been (in my view) the team’s best player this season, had what was by far his worst game of the season and got caught on two of the breakaways that resulted in Flyers goals.
Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel both seem to be all out of sorts at the moment, while Derick Brassard continues to be a mystery in the sense that the Penguins’ overall performance is better when he is in the lineup, but he never really seems to make much of an impact on his own.
All of that leaves them in the current situation, which is a .500 team four points out of a playoff spot in the first week of December with a number of teams ahead of them.
In the end it is still tough to bet against a team that has Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Kessel, especially they have overcome slow starts and rough stretches before.
But as I’ve written here before, they have never been this bad in the standings at this point in the season, and like the 2015-16 turnaround it still might require significant changes to the roster to get this team back to where it needs to be. If it didn’t, you would like to think that this current group of players would have gotten the “wake up call” it has clearly needed. A popular player was traded, the general manager publicly called them out, the results have put them in a tough hole in the standings. If this group, as currently constructed, was going to simply “flip the switch” and play their way out of this you would like to think it would have happened by now.
All they have done instead is continue through a frustrating cycle of inconsistency where they take a step and then immediately move two steps backwards. At some point if they are going to be a playoff team they are going to have to stack a bunch of wins on top of each other and not immediately revert back to their sloppy ways that lead to losses. Until they do that we should remain skeptical that this team in this season is going to be able to do it.