How close are the Penguins to becoming the Blackhawks or Kings?

Dynasties don’t always fade away. Sometimes they just crumble and collapse into a smoldering pile of ruin that cannibalizes itself and everything around it.

Sure, we sometimes throw the word “dynasty” around in sports a little too loosely, and I admit I am probably doing that here for the purpose of this argument, but hey … I needed a starting point. Even though NHL’s salary cap era has not produced a true “dynasty” comparable to the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, or Montreal Canadiens, there have been three teams that have stood out above the pack and achieved a level of success no other team has come close to matching.

The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years.

The Chicago Blackhawks won three in six.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three (with a fourth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final) in 10 years.

Those three teams have combined to win eight of the Stanley Cups in the salary cap era, including eight of the previous 10.

While none of them on their own qualify as a true “dynasty,” they have still been the defining teams of this era.

Two of them, the Blackhawks and Kings, are already in the smoldering pile phase of their franchise progression.

The Kings have missed the playoffs more than they’ve made them since winning their second Stanley Cup in 2014, have not won a playoff series, and just wrapped up a 2018-19 season where they spent the year competing with the Ottawa Senators for the worst record in the league.

The Blackhawks have not won a playoff series in three years since their 2015 Stanley Cup win and have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Is this sort of bleak stretch in the Penguins’ future? Well, the long-term answer is most certainly yes, it is, because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are not going to play forever, and there is going to come a point even when they are playing that they may not be able to carry the team to the playoffs. Hell, you don’t have to look far to see the track the Penguins have been on the past two years, going from back-to-back Stanley Cups, to a second-round exit, to a first-round sweep after clinching a playoff spot in Game 81 of the regular season.

That is coming down from the top of the mountain, friends, and there is nothing wrong with that. Nobody stays at the top forever, and at least if you are a Penguins, Kings, or Blackhawks fan you have a bunch of banners to show for it.

As the old saying goes: Banners hang forever.

But how close are the Penguins to truly falling to the bottom and living in the reality that Blackhawks and Kings have spent the past few years in (and maybe the next couple, at least)?

It will happen at some point, but I’m not sure the Penguins are there just quite yet.

First, even though the “core” of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, etc. are getting older, I feel like they have more of a graceful decline ahead of them than the core players of the Kings and Blackhawks.

The Kings’ core really wasn’t that impressive to begin with, was it?

Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are great — but that was about it. Their run of championships was never one that was built on skill or remarkably deep rosters. It was built on suffocating, systematic defensive work and hoping that Jonathan Quick could catch fire for a couple of months and rise above his otherwise mediocre track record as an NHL starting goalie. I’m not saying the Kings were frauds as champions (they were a legitimately great for three years!) but they just didn’t seem to have the type of roster that was set-up for long-term, sustained success over a decade or so.

Once their handful of high-level players started to slow down, there wasn’t much left around them to make up for it. When a player like, say, Dustin Brown loses a step, he doesn’t have much else to fall back on.

The Blackhawks are a little tougher to get a read on on where things went so sideways for them.

Corey Crawford’s health issues over the past two years have definitely had a negative impact on their overall performance, and when you lose a really good starting goalie and don’t have anyone to fall back on, that is going to create a lot of problems. I also think a lot of the Blackhawks’ problems are a little self-inflicted in the sense that they stayed too loyal to the wrong players (see: Seabrook, Brent) and made some irrational decisions based on one bad postseason result (trading a first-line player like Artemi Panarin to bring back a lesser player in Brandon Saad — one that they were, again, probably staying too loyal to because of the team success).

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By: Gretz

NHL playoff primer: 5 intriguing matchups to watch in the 1st round

It’s playoff season once again.

Before you fill out your postseason bracket, we break down one key matchup across five first-round series that could make or break a team in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Top-line takeover

It’s no secret – for the Leafs to trump the Bruins, they need to find an answer for the three-headed monster of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.

The Leafs were tormented by the Bruins’ top line in their seven-game series last postseason. Bergeron and Co. controlled possession, posting a Corsi rating of 64.90, and dominated Toronto in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, 49-26. An encouraging note for the Leafs is that the Corsi number dropped to 54.84 when matched with Auston Matthews and shot up to 75 when going against Tomas Plekanec – suggesting the trio dominated much of the play against a veteran player who is no longer in the league.

Looking at the regular season, both Matthews and Bergeron were out of the lineup for two of the teams’ meetings this season, so we’ll have to see how the coaches choose to deploy their top talent with the pair back in the mix.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

Goaltending vs. star power

The Islanders claiming home-ice advantage was key, but perhaps their biggest edge sits between the pipes. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined to capture the William M. Jennings Trophy this season, and their dominant play must continue for the team to be successful against the Penguins’ offensive arsenal.

Though neither netminder has a ton of playoff experience, the job will likely be Lehner’s to lose. Since returning from injury on March 19, the 27-year-old has posted a 5-2 record with a .942 save percentage.

Barry Trotz’s club allowed a league-low 191 goals on the campaign and posted a record of 38-2-2 when scoring at least three times in a game. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins boasted the fifth-best offense this year and rostered four players with 70-plus points.

Pittsburgh mustered 13 goals in four games against the Islanders during the regular season, with Crosby and Malkin combining for eight points.

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

Can ‘Johnny Hockey’ outperform MacKinnon?

Calgary’s Gaudreau and Colorado’s MacKinnon each notched a career-high 99 points this season. Though they play different positions up front, the two will be a joy to watch compete as they best embody the speed and skill that will be on display in this series.

The All-Stars have no problem facing the pressure of playoff hockey, either, as MacKinnon has tallied 16 points in 13 career contests, with Gaudreau posting 11 points in 15.

Both men know how to deliver when it matters most, too. “Johnny Hockey” racked up 39 points and 17 goals in the third period or overtime this season, while MacKinnon contributed 37 points and 15 goals in those clutch moments. When the game is on the line, look for one of these two studs to follow through.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Stingy penalty kill vs. Electric man advantage

Special teams will heavily influence this matchup between one of the greatest regular-season teams ever and a franchise looking for its first playoff series victory.

The Lightning’s power play was lethal this season, clicking at a league-leading rate of 28.2 percent. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, deploy the NHL’s top penalty kill.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets posted similar possession numbers with Corsi ratings of 51.59 and 50.21, respectively. The more even-strength hockey Columbus can play, the better its chances of pulling out the upset – in the regular season, the Lightning erupted for six power-play goals on 11 attempts in their three victories over the Jackets this year.

St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets

Battle in the crease

This Central Division clash is about as even as any playoff series on the slate. The Jets won 47 regular-season games and sported a goal differential of plus-28, while the Blues won 45 contests and were plus-24. Both teams finished with 99 points, but what may ultimately separate the two in this series is the play in the crease.

The Blues netminder was one of the best stories of the season. In 32 appearances, Binnington posted a .927 save percentage and an unbelievable 1.89 goals-against average en route to setting a franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender with 24. The 25-year-old has yet to face the Jets this season, perhaps to the Blues’ advantage.

Hellebuyck was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season but will need to regain his form in a hurry after taking a step backward this year. The 25-year-old won 10 fewer games and saw his goals against average spike from 2.36 to 2.90.

With two netminders trending in opposite directions, goaltending will be the deciding factor in this series.

By: Matt Teague

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Malkin Out 6-8 Weeks

Malkin played an important role in the 3-2 victory, setting up Carl Hagelin’s tiebreaking goal at 4:47 of the second period after notching an assist on defenseman Kris Letang’s power-play tally in the opening session. He recorded one shot and a plus-1 rating while losing all four of his faceoffs in 8 minutes, 59 seconds of ice time before being injured on a check by Columbus blue-liner Dalton Prout.

The 29-year-old Malkin has registered 27 goals and 31 assists in 57 games this season. He is one tally behind Sidney Crosby for the team lead and also ranks second behind the captain (67) with 58 points while leading the team with 11 power-play goals and sharing the top spot with Crosby for game-winners (six apiece).

Selected with the second overall pick in the 2004 draft, Malkin made his NHL debut in 2006-07, recording 33 goals and 52 assists in 78 games to claim the Calder Trophy. He netted a tally in each of his first six career games, becoming the first player to accomplish the feat since 1917-18.

Malkin has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau in eight of his 10 NHL seasons and the 100-point mark three times, most recently when he notched 109 in 2011-12 to capture the second of his two Art Ross Trophies as well as the Hart Trophy. He won his first scoring title in 2009, when he posted a career-high 113 points.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder had a tremendous postseason in 2009, recording 14 goals and 22 assists in 24 games. The performance helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup while also earning Malkin the Conn Smythe Trophy.

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Florida Panthers have Won 6 Shootout in Row

Written by Alain Poupart at NHL.com

The Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins went into overtime for the third time this season and, for the first time, the Panthers won.

Jussi Jokinen scored in the fifth round of the shootout and the Panthers defeated the Penguins 2-1 at BB&T Center on Monday.

“It was a good game,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We played a real good hockey team and it was a battle. Every time we play Pittsburgh it seems to go into overtime and we finally got on the winning side of it. So it was a real big two points. We needed them.”

Florida (33-18-6) defeated Pittsburgh (28-19-8) after the Penguins won the first two meetings, each by a score of 3-2.

The Panthers won for the first time in its six-game homestand, which began with losses against the St. Louis Blues (5-3) on Friday and Nashville Predators (5-0) on Saturday. Florida is 6-1 in shootouts this season, including six straight wins dating back to Nov. 14, the most in the NHL.

Forward Nick Bjugstad scored in regulation for the Panthers; Al Montoya made 31 saves.

The Penguins lost for the third time in their past 10 games (7-2-1). Pittsburgh played its sixth consecutive game without Evgeni Malkin, who also didn’t play in a 3-2 win against the Panthers on Feb. 6.

Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves.

“We played one-on-one in their end,” Kunitz said. “We have to keep driving through some of those. They played a good game. Their forwards keep the puck down low the first 10 or 15 minutes. They’re a good team and they’re battling and had some struggles. Their coach called them out and they came out with a hard game and we took them close to the end and they found a way to get two points.”

Jaromir Jagr, playing on his 44th birthday, had the first great scoring chance of the game early in the first period when he one-timed a pass from the slot from Vincent Trocheck but Fleury made the save.

Bjugstad scored at 7:30 of the first off a pass from defenseman Alex Petrovic. After taking a pass at the point, Petrovic faked a slap shot and instead made a diagonal pass to Bjugstad below the left circle. Bjugstad stopped the puck, which got to him despite hitting a Penguins stick, and quickly fired it past

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