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Can the Penguins stay atop the Metro Division through injury, goalie woes? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Previewing the Metro Division ahead of the 2021-22 NHL regular season. Today's entry: The Pittsburgh Penguins
2021 record and finish: 37-16-3, first in East Division. Lost in the First Round to the New York Islanders.
Coach: Mike Sullivan
Notable additions: Brock McGinn, Dominik Simon, Danton Heinen
Schedule against the Capitals:
@ Washington, 7 p.m., Sun. Nov. 14
@ Washington, 7 p.m., Fri. Dec. 10
@ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m., Tue. Feb. 1
@ Pittsburgh, 3 p.m., Sat. April 9
Outlook: The Penguins are one of the most unique teams in the East to try and get a handle on.
They’re still a talented team, and the case is very obvious that if they had a goalie to make a few timely saves, they should’ve advanced to the second round last season.
The Penguins had a few big departures over the offseason, like Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev, and they weren’t quite able to add much as they were so close to the salary cap. But they’ve still got Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And in a lot of ways, the Penguins are pretty similar to the Capitals.
Biggest question: Is the window still open?
There are too many questions for the Penguins to narrow down to one specific instance problem or concern. Crosby is 34 years old. Malkin is 35. Jeff Carter is 36. They’re old (and injured) down the middle, and it’s unclear if they’ll be able to keep up a high enough level of play to keep them as true Cup contenders. What will those top two centers look like when they return?
Another big question is in goal. Tristan Jarry imploded in the playoffs and likely cost them their series against the Islanders. If he’s able to rebound, the Penguins can check off another box of concerns. If he’s not, there’s not much in the pipeline that the Penguins could give up to bring in a starting goaltender.
While the Penguins are still talented, it’s not a stretch to see how this season can go off the rails.
Expectations: The Penguins have a lot of questions to answer entering the 2021-22 season. With Crosby out for the start of the season while recovering from wrist surgery, and Malkin out while recovering from knee surgery, the Penguins will have to roll with Carter as their top line center for the time being.
And the Penguins can’t just place Crosby and Malkin on long-term injured reserve either, since both players will be back during the regular season. They’ll have cap space cleared while they’re both out, but then they’d have to fit their roster under the cap once Malkin and Crosby return.
If those two are able to return in a timely manner, then the Penguins might be able to rebound in time to make a push. The Penguins are Stanley Cup contenders as long as Crosby and Malkin are in the lineup. Otherwise, they could be in for a long season.