Surprised by Regular Season Results? Try Again.

By: Joe Guzy

Two amazing centers do not make up for ten other forwards. (Getty Images)

Two amazing centers do not make up for ten other forwards. (Getty Images)

Bummer to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins over the last 48 hours. If you haven’t already heard, they are currently sitting in a wild card spot:

How horrifying is that? That’s not home ice in the playoffs. That’s not a Metropolitan Division banner. In fact, this is the first time since the 2005-2006 season that there is a strong possibility the Pittsburgh Penguins do not finish top two in their division. Condolences to those of you who annually purchase “Metropolitan/Atlantic Division Champions” shirts.

Throw in a casual reminder that the Penguins barely played ten full minutes against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night and any fan has an excuse to be upset. Not to mention March was nowhere near the typical March of the Penguins. Top it all off with some “3-6-1 in their last ten games” sprinkles and you’ve got a “sixth in the conference” sundae!

I’ll cut the snark.

But grab some ice cream first. When the weather warms up in Pittsburgh, the hot takes get even hotter. Unfortunately most of them were only applicable before the deadline and won’t be again until the off-season. Try some of these (or a sugar cone) instead!

Even though I’m willing to die on Beau Bennett’s hill, putting him in a top-six role with two knee braces isn’t even worth an experiment. Daniel Winnik is not a top-six forward. Chris Kunitz looks old. Should Rob Scuderi be playing that many minutes regardless of how many healthy defensemen they have? Is David Perron still celebrating his shootout goal? Did he take Blake Comeau with him? The Penguins have four lines?!

I broke out the microscope for most of those. Bennett hasn’t scored a goal since January. Winnik fanned on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play against Philadelphia. Chris Kunitz has fanned on more shots than anyone can count. Rob Scuderi played 25:47 against Philadelphia. Perron has only scored five even-strength goals since February 1st. Comeau has netted only five of his own since his February 11th return. The Penguins attempted to address depth production but it doesn’t feel like it.

I could flip all of that around and say that Bennett has at least played quite a few games without breaking something. Winnik is only on the first line in a shuffle amidst Evgeni Malkin being in and out of the lineup. Kunitz did score a power-play goal against the San Jose Sharks last weekend. Scuderi isn’t complaining about his ice time. Perron was this close to scoring an even-strength goal. Comeau could use Evgeni Malkin by his side again. Players like Winnik and Kunitz could be helping out the Penguins in the bottom-six but Evgeni Malkin’s absence threw a wrench in that plan.

Notice a trend?

Yeah, the Penguins need Evgeni Malkin. You knew that already. Other than a stockpile of injured defensemen, most of the Penguins’ problems can be traced back to Malkin’s absence. He didn’t only miss last night’s game against the Flyers. Their record in March will kindly remind you of that.

I’m not the first to say this team won’t go far without their stars. No line shuffles can fix that. No call-ups can fix that. We’re still waiting on a fix for what has plagued this team season after season. How on earth did Dan Bylsma manage regular season success with mediocre depth players?

He didn’t.

Bylsma had the luxury of a 35 goal scorer in Chris Kunitz next to Sidney Crosby. Pascal Dupuis chipped in with 20 goals in the shortened season of 2013. Evgeni Malkin played with a 40-goal scorer named James Neal. You were saying something about depth? Can we even address that after recalling Jarome Iginla was a member of this hockey club?!

Depth for the Penguins meant Deryk Engelland. How much thanks do the Penguins owe him for their past regular season success?

That’s the issue.

The same issue that has constantly unraveled itself in the playoffs. 2012, 2013 and 2014 – no matter how shorthanded or star-studded. It’s hard to forget. But for some reason a couple of new players and different suits behind the bench skew our memory worse than an eye witness testimony. (There’s a fancy stats joke in there somewhere if you really reach for it.)

The players are different. The coaches are different. The system is different. This team is different. But the roster composition is pretty much the same.

Crosby and Malkin can light the fire, but how much longer will they be responsible to keep it burning?