When the coronavirus outbreak became too much, the NHL decided to shut down the regular season. At the time, the Pittsburgh Penguins were, well, in trouble. The Pens were faltering big time, struggling to overcome a season mostly riddled with injuries and below-average play by Pittsburgh’s standards.
The Penguins limped into the break by going 3-8-0 in their previous 11 games, only beating up on three non-playoff teams while dropping five road games during that stretch. So you could say that the timing of the outbreak and stoppage was probably good for the Penguins. It stopped the bleeding. So with so much uncertainty surrounding the rest of the season, can the Penguins make things right once the NHL returns? Let’s take a look at where they stood at the time of the break and how they look moving forward.
Where do the Pittsburgh Penguins stand during the break?
Points: 86 (preseason over/under: 97.5)
Place: 3rd in Metropolitan (No. 5 overall seed in conference)
Stanley Cup odds (March 10): +1200
The Penguins are probably hoping that they’d be in a better position right now, but here we are. In their defense, they’ve had to deal with injuries all season long, like big injuries. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Justin Schultz and Patric Hornqvist have all missed chunks of time in 2019-20. Whenever a team is without its captain, its power forward, its go-to goal scorer, its top power-play defenseman, that team is going to lose some games.
Most of those players are back healthy, though Guentzel remains out due to a shoulder injury. There have been reports that he could return if the season resumes at some point, though that is unclear at this time. Other than Guentzel, the Penguins could be in good position if the League does resume with the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. The big question mark is at goaltender.
Matt Murray entered this season with high hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup. Instead, he’s essentially been replaced as the starting goaltender for the Penguins, who are in danger of not having home ice advantage in the postseason for the first time in a while. Murray as things stand has a 20-11-5 record with a 2.87 GAA and .899 SV% in 38 appearances. If you looked at backup goalie Tristan Jarry’s numbers, you’d think he was the starter heading into the season. Nope. Jarry is having a breakout year of sorts, going 20-12-1 with a .921 SV% and 2.43 GAA in 33 appearances for Pitt. He’s been the better goalie and forced a time-share between the two.
The Penguins playoff outlook is interesting because this is obviously a team that has won two of the past four championships. The roster has seem some overhaul since the back-to-back titles, but still has Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang and Murray. Giving a veteran team like the Penguins a clean slate of health, some time to get rested and reflect on what’s gone wrong this season should benefit all parties. Pittsburgh’s title chances are 7th-best on DKSB and I find them appealing as a bet if the playoffs return. Really, the field is wide open for the Cup given the long layoff. If the Pens can get their power play going, they’ll be as lethal as any other squad one hockey is back.
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