The Pittsburgh Penguins might still be dealing with a little Stanley Cup hangover. With a 16-3-3 record heading, good for sixth place in the Metro Division and not in a playoff spot heading into Thursday’s action, the Penguins aren’t where they expected to be.
The back-to-back champs have been mostly getting by on the strength of a third-ranked power play (26.3 per cent), as their 5-on-5 scoring has struggled to get going. They are 26th in scoring at even strength, right in between Ottawa and Arizona, who look like lottery teams right now. They have a minus-27 goal differential at evens.
The Penguins have lost three of their past four games, all at home, and set off on a three-game road trip to Vegas, Arizona and Colorado this week. It looks like a favourable stretch on paper, but since it wraps up one day before the NHL’s holiday roster freeze sets in on Dec. 19, an extended slump may force GM Jim Rutherford to make a change.
“We’re coming in to a critical period where we’ll make a decision whether we need to shake things up or not,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I’m not going to get into lists. I’m not saying we have to shake it up,” he continued.
“We’re good enough to be better than we’re doing. Hopefully that’s the way it goes here in the next little while. If it doesn’t, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that a major trade would come out of this.”
The Penguins have already made one trade this season, though, it was a minor October deal in which they acquired Riley Sheahan from the Red Wings for Scott Wilson. The plan for Sheahan, a 26-year-old, 6-foot-3 centre, was to help with the team’s depth at centre and play on the third line. He has three goals and nine points in 23 games with the Pens, which nearly equals his point total from all of last season. The problem is he doesn’t bring enough scoring punch to match up with some other third lines in today’s NHL and probably fits better as a fourth-liner.
Rutherford said he’s still looking to add depth down the middle.
“We need more depth at our centre ice position, to a point where we can get more production,” he said. “I’d like to see if we could get more balance, more production out of our forward lines. We’ve got some guys here who are capable of producing more. At this point, it hasn’t happened. That may be the area we look at.”
If there is a silver lining to find in the Penguins’ play, you can see it in their league-low 96.2 PDO, which suggests better shooting and save percentage luck should be on the horizon.
If a trade doesn’t happen before the roster freeze, it could come soon after as the Penguins face an important stretch of games when they come out of their road trip. From Dec. 21 to Jan. 5, Pittsburgh plays divisional opponents six times in eight games, which could swing their playoff outlook wildly, one way or another.