The team has slumped down the stretch, they have lost three consecutive games to the Rangers, the starting goalie is injured and will not be ready for the start of the series, and there seems to be an expectation that the Penguins are going to lose this series.
They easily could. The Rangers are a very good team. But the Stanley Cup Playoffs are also an unpredictable mess sometimes, and this year’s Eastern Conference looks completely unpredictable given the overall strength of the conference and each team in the playoffs. No result in any series should be an upset.
If the Penguins are going to win this and advance to the Second Round for the first time in four years they are obviously going to need big performances from their top players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel. That goes without saying.
But if they are going to win they are really going to need some of the complementary players to come through, Some of those players are going to carry more importance than others. Let’s take a look at four such players.
Casey DeSmith. I mean this kinda goes without saying. With Tristan Jarry sidelined for at least the start of the series it is all going to be on DeSmith being able to outduel Igor Shesterkin. Or at least come close to matching him, The question is going to be which version of DeSmith we get. Will it be the version that struggled badly late last season and for most of this season? Or the version that seemed to put it together on occasion and looked like somebody that would be capable of getting them through a few starts? It is not a stretch to say he is the most important player for the Penguins at the start of this season.
Jeff Carter. In my perfect line combination world Carter would be centering the fourth line right now behind Crosby, Malkin, and Teddy Blueger, but the Penguins seem determined to make sure Carter’s line gets third line minutes, and as long as that is the case the Penguins are going to need a lot more from Carter than they have gotten in the second half of the season. He still scores the occasional goal, but his line has not been a game-changer in any way. Every Penguins team that has won the Stanley Cup has always had a dominant third line that could swing games in their favor and create matchup problems for other teams. Carter has not been able to do that for some time now. The ability is there. But we need it to happen.
Bryan Rust. Rust has developed a reputation for being a big game player for the Penguins over the years, and they need that from him right now. He enters the playoffs in a terrible slump, having been held without a point in the last nine games, and recording only two goals and one assist in the last 15. It’s one of his worst slumps over the past few years, and it could not be happening at a worse possible time. He is due. He has to be due. The Penguins need the early season Bryan Rust back.
John Marino. You know Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin are going to play huge minutes in this series, but the Penguins are still going to need more from their other defenders, and that has to start with Marino. The Penguins have a huge investment in him and his career has taken a pretty significant step backwards after his rookie season. He should be one of the players whose future with the team is in doubt after this season if he does not have a big postseason. This would be a good time for him to recapture his early career magic.