Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Preview: Crosby Ready for Action

With the NHL playoffs now underway, let’s take a look at our Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Preview.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are striving hard this season, withholding a record of 47-25-8 and currently occupying the second wild-card spot in the Metropolitan Division. The record breaks down to 26-11-4 for home games and 21-14-4 for on the road.

Ranking 3rd in points per game and having the 2nd most goals in their division, they’re determined to reserve a slot in the playoffs this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin injured his upper back in March, and his absence is expected to be longer than a few weeks. Evgeni Malkin also missed 10 straight games earlier this season in February because of an undisclosed injury, where the team went 5-4-1 without him. The Penguins are 70-45-9 all-time in games Malkin missed with an injury.

Malkin is Pittsburghs’ second-leading goal and point scorer in 57 games played, and stood alongside teammate Sidney Crosby for the third-best mark in NHL. Since making his first postseason appearance in the spring of 2007, Malkin has maintained 1.10 points per playoff game. Crosby is the only player with a higher average among those who have played a minimum of 20 postseason games over that span.

With Malkin out, this doesn’t necessarily mean doom for the team.

In Malkin’s earlier absence, Matt Cullen moved up to center the second line. Wily and experienced, Cullen has been a great surprise for the Pens. Now, Nick Bonino is centering the second while Cullen is on the third.

Neither of these players can really replace Geno or what he brings to the game, but Bonino is doing a stunning job in the meantime. The second line of Phil Kessel – Bonino – Carl Hagelin is one of the strongest in the entire NHL: fast, sturdy, and deadly accurate with the puck.

Bonino is not as fast as Malkin is, nor as good at quarterbacking plays. However, he has such great chemistry with his new linemates that some have suggested bumping Geno down to the third line.

Sidney Crosby, captain and center position player, is widely regarded as the most gifted offensive player in the NHL, leading the team with 84 Points (35 Goals and 49 Assists). The youngest captain in history, and youngest captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup (2009), he is demonstrating determination despite setbacks.

With all the talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the New York Rangers in the first round of the Playoffs, Pittsburgh just may have an advantage since the Rangers’ top Defenseman Ryan Mcdonagh is injured, with an expected return to be just as long as that of Evgeni Malkin’s.

Without him, the Rangers would have to lean on Marc Staal, Dan Boyle and Dan Girardi more.

As for the Penguins, they’ve still got Crosby, Letang, Hornqvist, Kunitz, etc.

Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang, one of the league’s best defensemen, is right behind Crosby by less than 20 points, with a score of 67 Points (16 Goals and 51 Assists).

Patric Hornqvist, right wing player, and Chris Kunitz, left wing player, follow behind with 51 Points (22 Goals and 29 Assists) and 40 points (17 Goals and 23 Assists).

It’s clear the team’s offense is on a roll, but the team should evaluate it’s defense.

Defenseman Rob Scuderi entered the third season of his $13.5 million contract. His salary cap hit $3.3 million and his actual salary for 2015-2016 is $3 million. A reliable blue line stalwart for the Penguins during their Championship run in 2009, Scuderi has clearly lost a few steps since returning to Pittsburgh in 2013. Now 37, and past his prime, the Penguins are overpaying for a third-pairing defenseman.

According to the 2014-2015 stats, Scuderi tallied 10 points in 82 games, and was held pointless through five playoff games. He blocked 110 shots and averaged 19:08 minutes of ice time. Scuderi played 25 games this season, scoring only 4 points (0 Goals and 4 Assists).

The Penguin’s Power Play Percentage this season ranked 16th, and better than last seasons rank at 21st. Their Short-Handed Goals Against and Short-Handed Goals For, has reversed, which is an improvement, but their Penalty Kill Percentage hasn’t changed much.

If the Penguins make it through to the second round of the playoffs and get Malkin back this season – which seems increasingly likely based on their hot play – it will be interesting to see what Coach Sullivan does. Realistically, he’ll probably put Geno back in his normal spot on the second line and shunt down Bonino and Cullen, but what if he doesn’t?

However it’s phenomenal that Pittsburgh is such a deep team that they can still succeed with two of their core players out of the lineup.

(Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Preview)