Everything was going more or less according to plan for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018-2019. They finished the regular season with a decent 44-26-12 record, good for third in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference. They made the playoffs and got set to face the New York Islanders in the first round.
And then, the Penguins were swept.
In the regular season, Pittsburgh tied the Toronto Maple Leafs with 100 points. They scored 273 goals, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Four Penguins had 20 or more goals, including Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, and the team-leading Jake Guentzel. Guentzel had a career-high 40 goals and a total of 76 points. He was a plus-13, also a career high, and managed a career-best 227 shots on goal.
Crosby led the team in points with an even 100. The 31-year-old has reached 100 points six times in his career, although 2018-2019 marked the first time in the last five seasons he’s accomplished the feat.
While it was very much an “on” year for Crosby and a breakout year for Guentzel, Malkin was not so lucky. The 32-year-old was again hindered by injuries, plus he found himself putting up less-than-ideal offensive numbers. His goal totals were his third-lowest in his entire career and easily his lowest when adjusted for number of games played.
Malkin’s poor showing also led to a career-worst minus-25, which is 19 points off his second-lowest plus-minus total.
Defensively, the Penguins allowed 241 goals against – 10 fewer than the Maple Leafs. That enabled them to tip the goal differential to plus-32, ironically tying them with the Islanders.
Goalie Matt Murray posted a career-high 50 starts and won 29 games, with a goals against average of 2.69 and a save percentage of .919. That’s a little better than his career average.
Casey DeSmith was the backup, starting 30 games and winning half. He had a goals against average of 2.75 and a save percentage of .916, a step down from his previous season’s numbers.
When it came time for the playoffs, the Penguins had made minor adjustments but no big moves. And the brick wall known as the New York Islanders was impossible to overcome because Pittsburgh had no answers. They fell to a similar fate as the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were also thought to have every offensive piece of the puzzle.
The Penguins couldn’t manage a lead for more than five minutes in the entire series and had no capacity for playing from behind. They couldn’t solve Robin Lehner either.
Jim Rutherford’s club took to the summer without much of a transformative plan. The Penguins shuffled Phil Kessel out of town for Alex Galchenyuk in hopes of shaking up the forward group, while the gritty Brandon Tanev could also make an impact.
Everything else is by and large the same, which could make 2019-2020 the ultimate test for this hockey club. If their premature banishment from the post-season was, in fact, a glitch, expect the Penguins to bounce back. But if their showing against the Islanders was the new normal, big changes could be in the works next summer.
Photo credit: NHL.com