The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are currently out of the playoff picture. These clubs have won six of the last nine Stanley Cups.
The championship pedigree of these two teams makes this a curious case at the halfway point of the season. The Pens are the reigning champs who came into the season with the best odds (8-1) to repeat once again. Chicago began the grind coming off a year in which they finished No. 1 in the West. The Hawks were given the fifth best odds (12-1) to raise Lord Stanley for the fourth time in nine years.
There is room for excuses and explanations for why this is happening. You can look at it from various angles, but maybe their reign as the NHL’s elite is over for the time being. That’s what I’m hoping for at least. It would be tough to make that case for Pittsburgh with them being back-to-back champs and then Chicago just given their DNA.
I don’t like either of these teams. It’s nice to have more novelty teams, which makes for more stories. Those outside of these hometown cities must continue to drive them further into the cellar. We can’t sleep on them either. Nevertheless, we need to dissect what’s happening with two of the most successful teams in the last decade.
What’s going on in the City of Steel??
The Penguins have been battling this year to say the least. Seemingly every game has them down another man. They currently sit a point behind Carolina for the second Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh continues to fight through their regular season adversity with AHL call-ups and college signings. If they find a way into the postseason at full strength, the Pens will not be overlooked.
The first order of business on their team dissection is that dreaded goal differential. Coming into Thursday, the Penguins are -14 on the year. Matt Murray (No. 1 goalie) logs the most minutes for them and has been battling injury almost all year. When he’s been in the net, he hasn’t been as sharp as he’d like to be either. Murray has been somewhat average with a goals against close to three and a save percentage hovering around 90 percent.
Furthermore, the Penguins backend is either out of commission or less than advertised. Excluding Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh’s current D-core has registered just 19 points. The entire core is a combined -52 with only one (Schultz) in the plus column, who has played just 24 games. The Pens are more than capable of turning it around as they reach their halfway point, but need to act fast. They lost some pieces in the expansion draft and free agency. But there hasn’t been an excess amount of changeover for the two-time reigning champs.
Troubles in the Windy City..
The people of Chicago and fans of their beloved Blackhawks find themselves in a weird place. At the midpoint of their season they find themselves in last place in the toughest division in hockey (the Central) and four points behind the second Wild Card spot in the West. Will they find their form down the stretch? Or has this been a downward spiral for them since the end of the 2016 season?
Chicago is coming off two straight first-round exits. In each of those series against Nashville and St. Louis, the Hawks’ core players (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane…) were shut down, and they were forced to dig deep. The depth of the Blackhawks roster was exposed, which is perhaps why they are not the same dominant team at this point of the regular season. Kane is still doing Kane things with 38 points in his first 38 games, but Toews is not as lethal with 24. The Hawks have a few young guns putting up points, but are they a complete enough team to overcome this slow start?
Corey Crawford is still a top 10-15 net minder with 16 wins and a 2.27 goals against, but has no partner. Chicago has used two other goaltenders that have appeared in 14 games and have combined for just two wins. In the modern day NHL, we all know having two solid goalies is crucial to your success. Crawford has accounted for 34 of the team’s 42 points coming into Wednesday’s meeting with the Rangers.
DO not sleep on them..Battle.
We can discuss all the injuries and how these two teams have underperformed so far this season, but no. The trap opposing teams cannot fall into is forgetting about the championship DNA in each of these two clubs.
The second half of the regular season is a sprint. The marathon part is over, and good teams play their best when everything is on the line. Every two points is crucial, and that’s what scares me the most about these two teams.
The last thing they need is a chip on the shoulder, which is what we all are giving them. The core and the leaders of these two teams have won and know how to win when it matters most. Therefore, they must keep a foot on the gas pedal and battle.
Featured image by A-B Tech
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