Penguins’ Woes Are Many And It’s Only Going To Get Worse

Just missing the playoffs when a spot was there for the taking is as frustrating as it is disappointing. But the bigger problem is the Pens are about to slip into the abyss, if they haven’t already.


(Update April 14, 11:45 a.m:  Friday morning, the Penguins fired General Manager Ron Hextall, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and assistant general manager Chris Pryor)

In the end all the Penguins had to do to extend their NHL playoff streak from 16 seasons to 17 was to beat the two worst teams in the league.

That they couldn’t even handle the first of those very manageable tasks, the first at home, for crying out loud, against a roster littered with AHL pretenders, was as much a microcosm of the Pens’ disheartening season as it was an indictment of what they put on the ice with everything on the line.

“If you look at the first 40 (minutes), we missed so many chance,” defenseman Kris Letang lamented late Tuesday night after Blackhawks 5, Penguins 2 at PPG Paints Arena. “I think in the third (period) we kind of got frustrated, kind of imploded giving up chances and stuff.

“It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Such truths never go down easily.

Still, Letang managed to nail what turned out to be the postmortem.

The Pens created glorious scoring chance after glorious scoring chance in the first two periods but all that offensive DNA they’re convinced they still possess betrayed them, especially on the power play.

As that was happening the goaltending proved to be unlucky and, in the end, not good enough.

And they were too often too soft when it was time to fight a physical battle.

And when things got really tight …

“We kind of got frustrated, kind of imploded.”

That’s as fitting an epitaph as any: “Here lies the 2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins, Frustrated and Imploded.”

Had they thrown in a blown third-period lead, that Chicago debacle would have checked every box along the way to not making the playoffs.

The worse news is it may be a while before the Pens get there again.



The Pens had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin healthy enough to play in each of their first 81 games this season and were still eliminated before game No. 82.

And neither one of those guys will be any younger next season, nor will any of the Pens’ other grizzled veterans.

“We try so hard,” Malkin maintained after the Chicago game had gotten away and with it, inevitably, it seemed at the time, the season. “But I don’t know, league young, you know? They play so hard. It’s like new generation, it’s coming, you know?”

All too well.

The league is getting young and fast and the Pens are getting older and slower.

The teams ahead of them in the standings are distancing themselves from the Pens.

And the teams behind them are closing the gap, fast.

And they’re saddled with a handful of difficult-if-not-impossible-to-move contracts.

And the minor league/prospect cupboard is pretty much bare.

This is going to take a lot more than gassing the general manager or the head coach (the former should absolutely, positively happen, the latter is something the new guy should think long and hard about).



This is going to take an overhaul of the organization.

And still the obvious decline the Penguins have experienced since last winning a playoff series in the second round in 2018 may yet degenerate into a free fall.

What’s plaguing the Pens at present has already brought down teams that had recently won multiple championships.

Teams get old, stars become more expensive than their capability to deliver justifies and the rest of the league catches up.

The Red Wings won Stanley Cups in 1997, ’98, ’02 and ’08, but Detroit hasn’t won a playoff series since 2013 and has missed the postseason entirely the last seven seasons.

The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and again in 2014. They’ll try again this spring to win a first-round series for the first time since their last championship parade.

And the Blackhawks, Stanley Cup champions in 2010, ’13 and ’15, likewise, haven’t won a round since and appear to be about as far away from doing so again as a team can get.

It’s been rough for the Penguins in the postseason ever since their bid for a three-peat was denied by the Capitals in the second round in ’18.

It may be about to get ugly.

“It’s tough to swallow” was likely the only part of the Pens’ obit Letang managed to understate.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section