The Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated from the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Tuesday night, blowing a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the process.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 — when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were 21 and 22 years old, respectively — Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to return to the Cup Final. In those five playoff runs, the Penguins were eliminated in the first round twice, the second round twice and once in the conference finals. Many franchises would be happy with that kind of playoff success, but that’s not the case in Pittsburgh because of its immense talent and experience.
So, where do the Penguins go after Tuesday’s 2-1 home loss, should head coach Dan Bylsma lose his job? What about general manager Ray Shero? Is it the players who are most at fault?
Let’s start with the front office and coaching staff.
There’s no question Bylsma should be fired. He’s consistently out-coached and made a number of puzzling decisions in Pittsburgh’s last few playoff runs. His playoff record in elimination games on home ice is 1-6, and the Penguins’ last five playoff exits were to lower-seeded teams.
Injuries hurt Bylsma’s ability to roll four lines, but when a team isn’t able to get the most production possible from superstar players and advances past the second round only once in five seasons, it’s time for a change behind the bench. Bylsma just wasn’t able to motivate his players or help them keep their composure in key situations. Overall, this team lacks discipline, and that’s a coaching issue.
Shero also needs to be held accountable. His list of mistakes over the last few seasons is a growing one. Here are some notable examples:
- Ruined his team’s chemistry in the 2013 season by making four trade-deadline moves.
- Signed defenseman Kris Letang to an eight-year, $58 million contract that begins next season.
- Signed Rob Scuderi to a four-year free-agent contract before this season.
- Made no additions at this year’s trade deadline to a blue line hurt by injuries.
- Failed to acquire any bottom-six forward depth at this year’s trade deadline.
- Brought back Bylsma and his assistants after ugly playoff exits against Philadelphia (2012) and Boston (2013).
The players will shoulder much of the blame, too. Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL in scoring with 104 points, has tallied just two goals in his last 20 playoff games. James Neal, a 40-goal scorer playing alongside Malkin, didn’t score in the final six games of Round 2. The Penguins’ blue line also failed to provide much scoring with just one goal in the Rangers series. Malkin was one of the few Penguins stars who played well consistently in Round 2, finishing with three goals and four assists.
The goaltending will be a popular topic of discussion, but Marc-Andre Fleury was much better this postseason compared to the last two playoff runs. His .915 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average were his best since 2007-08, when Pittsburgh went to the Cup Final. He did allow a couple of soft goals, but it didn’t help that the Penguins forced him to make a ton of high-quality saves because of turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns. Fleury also didn’t get much offensive support:
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The Penguins decided not to panic after being swept by the Bruins in last year’s conference finals. Taking the same approach again would be a gigantic mistake. This team needs a major shakeup to return to the Stanley Cup Final.