Well this is not the way to start a big week before the All-Star break.
With Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes in the books, the Pittsburgh Penguins have now lost four of their past five games and six of their past nine games overall. It is not only a slump that has seen some bad starts, bad finishes and disturbing overall play, it has completely undone and squandered more of the progress they had made after a strong finish to the month of December.
They are back down to 12th in the Eastern Conference in points percentage and currently on track for just 89 points. That is four points off the pace for what the second Wild Card team in the Eastern Conference would be going into play on Tuesday.
Given that place in the standings, given the inconsistency in terms of their overall play, and given how ugly this recent stretch has been, the time has come for the Penguins to firmly choose a path on what direction they are going to take this season.
They need to either commit to trying to make something happen this season and make a move to try and salvage things, or they need to choose to throw in the towel. Continuing on this current path without doing anything or choosing a direction is just going to make it look like there is no direction and no real plan and no clue on what to do. Hoping things just magically get figured out is not an option, because it is pretty clear that is not going to happen.
The season is more than half over and outside of a two week stretch in December this team has consistently showed us what they are. They have no finishing ability as a team, no scoring depth, a bad power play, and only a handful of defensemen that can be counted on. The flaws have been consistently there and have not changed all season.
Kyle Dubas has talked about using the All-Star break as his own deadline to evaluate the team’s future, and that arbitrary deadline is rapidly approaching. But honestly, he should not need that long. This team has shown itself to be what it is, and at the All-Star break the season is going to be 46 games old and time is going to be running out to do something meaningful for the short-term.
The playoff gap is widening, the games remaining are shrinking, and by the time you make a decision on what to do time is going to be running out on the season.
But maybe that ultimately does decide the future. Maybe that is the point of no return. But it is clear that things can not continue on this current path.
If there is any hope of still doing something this season the Penguins are going to have to act rapidly and do something meaningful. Fire somebody, whether it be the head coach or an assistant coach. Aggressively hunt a trade to fix one of the many obvious flaws on the roster.
And if you don’t think that is going to fix it, or if you do not think fixing it is possible, declare yourself a seller and put the for sale sign up on the front yard.
At this point I am just tired of seeing the same thing without any sort of change.
I tried to be patient and look for the progress or the positive signs. And for a while it looked like things were starting to get back on track. But the problem with the way the Penguins have played this season is that it put them in such an early hole that it was going to require a nearly flaw-less performance from December on with almost no margin for error.
Well, there has been quite a bit of error over the past two weeks and a lot of bad moments.
Overall, I still love the addition of Erik Karlsson and the trade to acquire him. It was a no-brainer decision given the cost to acquire him and the talent.
I had high hopes for Reilly Smith and thought at the time he was going to be the perfect replacement for Jason Zucker.
The goalie moves, to this point, have worked out much better than anybody could have anticipated.
But it is pretty clear that not much else from Dubas’ offseason has gone well. And even some of what has gone well hasn’t really been whaat was expected.
Karlsson has been mostly good, but far from a difference-maker and he is equal contributor to the inept power play.
Smith has simply not looked like a good fit and seems to have little interest in being in Pittsburgh.
The rest has been woefully underwhelming and not done anything to address the Penguins’ flaws that existed before the season began. Ryan Graves is looking like a terrible whiff on defense and not only leave them lacking a key player in the top-four, it has saddled them with another bad contract. I saw the vision with what they were trying to do with the bottom-six in terms of improving it defensively, but the lack of overall scoring depth and the lack of offensive punch from that group is a big contributor to an offense that ranks near the bottom of the NHL despite still having Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel playing at elite levels.
They entered the offseason as a team needing to fix its power play, improve its scoring depth, improve the top-four on defense and get better goaltending.
They are still a team with a terrible power play, no scoring depth, and they still have a need for a top-four defenseman. The goaltending, perhaps shockingly, is one of the few things that has kept this season even mildly afloat. Even that is not a guarantee to continue on all season.
Most of the flaws that existed in the offseason still exist now and there has been seemingly little urgency to try and fix them. It is either time to try — rapidly — or start looking at getting what you can for who you can. The status quo can not continue for much longer.
I said a little more than a week ago that as long as the Penguins are in a playoff position or close to it is difficult to envision a scenario in which they trade Jake Guentzel. But then they blew a 2-0 lead in Vegas with 15 minutes to play and got humiliated in Arizona to fall back down to 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Now the scenario is not that difficult to envision.