Erik Karlsson calls Penguins ‘a huge disappointment’ after missing playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins' Erik Karlsson gets off a pass during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Superstar defenceman Erik Karlsson was quite blunt about the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ season after they were eliminated from playoff contention.

The Washington Capitals clinched the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night, meaning Pittsburgh will miss the post-season for the second consecutive year.

For Karlsson, who joined the Penguins in August after a blockbuster trade with the San Jose Sharks, his playoff drought has now reached five straight seasons.

“We are a huge disappointment,” Karlsson said after Wednesday’s morning skate, according to The Athletic. “Huge. We underachieved so much and it’s very disappointing. There’s no other way to say it.”

Some of that accountability falls on Karlsson, who posted career highs across the board last season with 25 goals and 76 assists for 101 points to earn his third career James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenceman.

Karlsson’s numbers dipped to 55 points (11 goals and 44 assists) this season — still good but not good enough, given his level of talent and playing alongside fellow future Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

“Oh, it’s on all of us,” Karlsson said. “We are a lot better than what we showed this year. I know that much.

“I know we have a better team than this,” he added. “We are capable of more than this.”

Crosby’s assessment wasn’t as harsh, as he pointed to moments throughout the season where points simply slipped away.

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“I mean, when you’re talking about one or two points, I think a lot of different games you look at, or instances, it’s hard to turn one or two points and magnify that into what the reason is necessarily, but there’s probably different things,” Crosby told reporters Wednesday. “I think the obvious one is just multiple games when we had leads and we ended up not even getting points in some of those.”

The Penguins power play was a major letdown as it held the second-worst success rate in the league at 14.6 per cent — behind only the Philadelphia Flyers, at 12.2 per cent — and have also given up a league-leading 12 short-handed goals.

“We tried so hard to work it all out but we never really did,” Karlsson said. “We couldn’t get our minds out of the situation. That’s what happens. When you’re into something so incredibly deep like we all were on the power play, I think it actually becomes harder to see and figure out what the solution is. You try to get yourself out of that mindset. You try and try. You want to get rid of this feeling that you have, that something’s not right on the power play and you want to fix it. But we couldn’t.”

The Penguins went 7-1-2 over their past 10 games of the season in a valiant last grasp playoff push. Crosby, who leads the team with 92 points, said there were some positives to draw from as far as how they finished down the stretch.

“I thought that the whole group showed a lot of character,” Crosby said. “I think that every single guy stepped up and had a part in us still being in it, so I think there’s something to take from that. But at the same time, we’ll look at a lot of different games and plays and probably want a lot of those back.

“I think if you look at the season as a whole, obviously, I think we feel like we were capable of being a playoff team and there are some games there that we let slip.”

Crosby, Malkin and Letang will be back for a record-extending 19th season together — the longest tenured trio in North American sports. Letang is locked up through to the end of the 2027-28 season, Crosby has one year remaining on his current deal while Malkin has two.

The 33-year-old Karlsson is signed for another three seasons and doesn’t appear to believe a total rebuild is necessary if only to allow this group to prove itself.

“Well, let’s just put it this way,” Karlsson said. “I just hope we’re together for a bit longer, because that way, we would get another chance to show just what we are capable of doing. I think we’ve learned a lot this season. I just want the power play to be a non-issue starting next season. It snowballed on us and we never got out of it. But I know we’re so much better than this and I want us to get the chance to prove it.”

The Penguins finish their season Wednesday night on the road against the New York Islanders.

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