(Photo : (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)) TEMPE, ARIZONA – JANUARY 22: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts after Lawson Crouse (not pictured) of the Arizona Coyotes scored a aim through the third interval of the NHL sport at Mullett Arena on January 22, 2024 in Tempe, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 5-2.
A foul season acquired worse on Monday night time for the Pittsburgh Penguins, when on a delayed name towards the Arizona Coyotes, veteran defenseman Kris Letang tried to drop a move again to legendary middle Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin could not deal with the move deflecting it into the empty web for an personal aim that made it 4-2 Arizona within the third interval.
Rarely in sports activities will we see moments so powerfully symbolic of the sudden finish of an iconic period.
With Malkin, Letang, and all-time nice Sidney Crosby main the best way, the Penguins received the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016, and 2017. In each season between 2008 and about now, they’ve not less than been within the image to compete for it.
This yr? Not a lot, at the same time as Crosby is handing over an MVP-caliber season on the age of 36.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Where Did it Go Wrong?
Father Time comes for each dynasty or borderline dynasty in professional sports activities. We simply noticed it come for the New England Patriots. It got here for Michael Jordan. It is coming for LeBron James, and it got here for the Penguins.
Despite Crosby’s continued brilliance, Malkin and Letang have slipped from being among the many very most dominant gamers within the league to easily being excellent gamers.
That’s a standard and anticipated drop-off, nevertheless it’s not one which this Penguins franchise was constructed to bear.
New common supervisor Kyle Dubas took a giant swing within the offseason, doubling down on his ageing core and including one other older star in defenseman Erik Karlsson to the group.
The gamble paid off, as Karlsson has produced 33 factors in 44 video games and has been a constructive drive on the ice, however even that hasn’t been sufficient to stave off the workforce’s decline.
Pittsburgh’s downside has been a complete lack of offensive manufacturing exterior of its high six forwards. Crosby, Malkin, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Rickard Rakell, and Reilly Smith are all averaging half some extent per sport or larger, however Smith has missed time and each he and Rakell are precisely at half some extent per sport.
Beyond that, not a single participant has produced at something approaching an impactful degree. The Penguins have gotten robust goaltending from Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic, nevertheless it has not been sufficient to offset what has at instances been an anemic offense.
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Where do the Penguins Go from Here?
Last night time’s loss despatched the Penguins right down to seventh place in what’s a tightly-packed center of the Metropolitan Division. The Pens are inside placing distance of the Capitals, Islanders, and Devils, however they’d seemingly must beat out all three of these groups and one of many wild card contenders from the Atlantic Division to make the playoffs.
It’s not an unattainable path, particularly with the season Crosby is placing up, however it’s a not possible one.
This places Dubas within the unenviable place of getting to be the one to resolve to tug the plug on this storied period of Penguins hockey in simply his first yr on the job. It’s difficult by the truth that he was introduced in to do his greatest to increase it.
The Penguins might choose to promote on the deadline and start what might be an extended and arduous means of gathering belongings to construct a brand new younger core
The downside is Pittsburgh despatched this yr’s first-rounder away, albeit with high 10 protections, to San Jose to amass Karlsson, they usually haven’t got a lot in the best way of high quality gamers on expiring offers.
They do have a star winger in Guentzel, and the 29-year-old would make sure to command a bounty of belongings if the Penguins make him obtainable.
Trading Guentzel could be a transparent assertion to the fan base that this period is over. The query for Dubas is whether or not or not making the proper choice is definitely worth the potential alienation of not solely his followers, however the veteran trio of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, all of whom are signed past this season and anticipate to compete.
Could any of them be traded? The notion of Crosby in one other uniform is just about unthinkable, however that is not likely the case with Malkin.
Whatever the choice winds up being, it is time to deal with the truth that this trio seemingly is not going to elevate one other Cup collectively as Penguins.
Whether it is best for the franchise for all of them to play out the string collectively within the Steel City to protect their one-team legacies or transfer on, one disastrous play in Tempe laid the truth naked.
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