Close your eyes and go back in time to October 5th, 2017. The Penguins just lost 10-1 to the Blackhawks. If you were told at that point one of these powerhouse teams, the fellow darlings of the salary cap era would end up slumping to a forgettable season and miss the playoffs and the other would go on to collect 100 points in the standings and comfortably make the playoffs, you would have to think that Pittsburgh was likely in for a rocky winter.
That assessment wouldn’t change later that month with 7-1 losses to Tampa and Winnipeg in the month of March. Or 40 games in, when the calendar turned from 2017 to 2018 the Pens stood just 22nd in the league with a wholly mediocre 19-18-3 record. They were out of a playoff spot, they had lost more games than they had won.
When the calendar turned, so too did the Pens. Their 28-11-3 record since 1/1 is among the best in the league. Their 161 Goals Scored is by far the most in the NHL in that span. This isn’t a perfect team, or a perfectly consistent one, but it is important to remember just how much (and how quickly) that they turned their fortunes and season around.
2017-18 season achievements
Playoff streak extended
Can’t win the Cup if you don’t make the playoffs. No team has punched their ticket more or as consistently as the Pens in the cap era.
Chicago and New York are disappearing from this list when it’s updated. St. Louis’ fate remains unknown going into their Game 82, with a chance to make it but also a chance to miss. Anaheim and Minnesota have clinched 6th consecutive playoff spots, a full half the mark of the Pens now 12 year run.
100 point season
For the 9th time in the Sidney Crosby / Evgeni Malkin era, the Penguins got to 100 points in the standings. Every full season they have had 98+ points since Malkin entered the league in 2006-07.
A historically great power play
The Pens power play beat the 1995-96 Pens for best full season power play since 1990.
We’ll never know what that Capitals teams could have done in the lockout year, but this full season was all about the Pens. The 1995-96 Pittsburgh team had a famous “Score Lords” poster featuring Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis that many (myself included) had in their room. The 2017-18 version, mainly starring Malkin, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Patrc Hornqvist.
One incredible aspect of the power play was the consistency. They started red hot and kept it up. The monthly splits for the PP from Oct - April was: 28.0%, 24.5%, 21.4%, 33.3%, 29.2%, 18.9%, 21.4%.
The Penguins fanbase will never take health of their star players for-granted. Crosby played 82 games for the first time in his long NHL career. Malkin only suffered one minor injury and played 78 games. Kris Letang may not have had Norris form coming off a serious neck surgery last April, but he was still able to play 79 games, his 2nd highest personal mark in nine full NHL seasons. Kessel, as always, was an ironman and answered the bell for all 82.
And perhaps happiest of all, after years of bad fortune (2 shoulder surgeries, cancer, soft core injury, mumps, etc) Olli Maatta was able to have a perfectly healthy season and play all 82 games.
In all, the Pens had 9 players appear in 75+ games, and they were mostly the best players on the team. Last season only 6 played 75+ and a couple were depth 4th line/3rd pair guys at that.
Can we just remember that coming into the regular season the 3rd and 4th line NHL centers in Pittsburgh were Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney? By the trade deadline Jim Rutherford worked his magic and got Derick Brassard (at 60% of his cap hit, no less) and a suddenly resurgent Riley Sheahan to turn a weakness of center depth into a strength. It came at a cost (Ian Cole, a 1st round and 3rd round pick plus prospect Filip Gustvsson) but Brassard and Sheahan are at least signed and under team control, respectively for next season.
We’re reaching the point in the illustrious careers of Crosby and Malkin when just about any goal or point could be a milestone. Sid hit the 400 goal mark this year. 1,100 points too. And 700 assist plateau.
Malkin had mostly a place-setting year for 2018-19 for milestones. With 370 career goals, 560 assists and 830 points, Geno could be hitting a bunch of milestones next season. Still, Malkin had his best season in goals, assists and points since 2011-12.
Kessel had his finest NHL season setting new personal bests in assists (58) and points (92).
Brian Dumoulin only had 2 career regular season goals coming into 2017-18. He scored 5 this season. (Probably shoulda been 6 too...) Dumoulin’s 18 points were also a career high.
In his first full NHL season, Jake Guentzel set career highs in goals (22), assists (26) and points (48).
Maatta’s 22 assists set a personal high, and his 29 points tied his career best.
Jamie Oleksiak did almost as much in 47 games with Pittsburgh as he had done in parts of six different seasons in Dallas. His assists (10) and points (14) were a career single season best.
Bryan Rust set bests in games played (69), assists (25) and points (38).
Zach Aston-Reese, Casey DeSmith and Jean-Sebastien Dea all made their NHL regular season debuts. Aston-Reese and Dea scored their first NHL goals, DeSmith earned a shutout.