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Penguins Perspectives: A blueprint on Fifth Avenue

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Monday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Ron Hextall is still the general manager.

Mike Sullivan is still the head coach.

The trade deadline has passed and it's clear by the moves made by the hockey operations department, they are not letting this season just pass by, they're in it to make the playoffs and take a stab at Lord Stanley's Cup.

So, rather than take this space to once again complain about the GM, the roster, and everything else surrounding it, let's go the other direction.

Can this team win the Stanley Cup, if so how, and what needs to be done to make that all happen?

The Coach

This is a good place to start.

Jeff Carter has been a fan-favorite punching bag so far this season and with good reason. For the money he's making and where this team is, it's an easy and correct target.

A once very solid goal-scoring center is now a shell of that description. That's also nothing to be ashamed of, time is the only consistent in this life and it comes for all of us.

Jeff Carter still has the shot necessary to be an effective goal-scorer in the National Hockey League, but not as a center. He needs to be a winger.

Mike Sullivan seems to disagree.

Carter continues to be put out in key situations – late leads, right after goals, and so on. While Mike Sullivan can't truly control the way Ron Hextall builds a roster, between Jeff Jimmerson's national anthem and the final buzzer, he controls the lineup card.

Hextall, as far as I know, isn't forcing Sullivan to play Carter this much, or at all.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Mikes that coach the two fall and winter franchises, Sullivan and Tomlin, are among the best in the business but if they have one flaw in common it's that they are fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault.

Carter can still play a role on a winning team, but it must be a much more diminished one.

The same can be said for the top-pairing defenseman.

No, not Kris Letang you sickos, Brian Dumoulin.

He will always have a place in Pittsburgh Penguins lore as a guy who helped what was a sneakily strong Penguins' defense in 2016 and 2017 hoist the Stanley Cup.

Similar to Carter, Dumoulin is no longer that guy. While his play as of late has improved, that isn't saying too much given it was abysmal for long stretches this season.

Putting Dumoulin on a bottom pairing, sheltering his minutes along with someone like Jan Rutta, and making sure he's getting favorable deployment would go a long way to using this roster's defense effectively.

Those two decisions, made correctly by Mike Sullivan, could give this team a fighting chance.

Jarry's Millions

Have you heard – Tristan Jarry is a free agent this summer and he wants a reported 5-year, $5 million deal.

Right now, I don't think he's worth that. Between the injuries and the inconsistencies in the postseason, he has a lot left to prove.

This stretch run could be just that proving ground.

He currently holds a .912 save percentage, which while not too bad, also isn't great. He also hasn't quite been the reason they've been up and down all year long, but as The Athletic's Josh Yohe likes to say: you are allowed to make a big save once in a while.

One thing I often say when it comes to hockey is that the most important position is goaltender. It's the only position in a team sport where one player can simply just steal a game. Think back, Penguins fans, to the year 2010. The Penguins were defending Stanley Cup champions, they had a good season, winning 47 games and finishing in the top 10 overall in the standings.

It was the final year at Mellon Arena and they looked poised to maybe make another deep run after two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final.

Then Jaroslav Halak happened. A .927 save percentage and only 16 goals surrendered against a Penguins team that scored the fifth-most goals in the NHL that year.

The Penguins were eliminated in seven games in the second round of the playoffs.

If Tristan Jarry wants a big extension this summer, the next two months could play a huge role in getting him that deal.

Play the hits

It's a popular idiom among Penguins fans and writers but this summer, they kept the band together by re-signing Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust.

The big boys that make this team go are still here and for the most part, they have done their jobs and produced night in and night out.

For this team to go anywhere, playoffs, past the first round, etc…it will rely heavily upon the top six being an absolute force to be reckoned with.

This also has to do with the coach a bit.

With nothing to lose but the season, it's time their icetimes are increased. They're your workhorses, they're your best chance at going anywhere this year, so they should be playing the most and more.

Jeff Carter currently averages a shade over 14 minutes in average icetime.

Take it down to 10 and spread those four minutes out amongst the top six.

No, Crosby and Malkin aren't the young bucks they once were but making sure teams are constantly facing them can create an ever-so-slight matchup advantage for a Penguins team that is seriously lacking in depth.

The weight of expectation

For all intents and purposes, it appears the Penguins are on a crash course to meeting the juggernaut Boston Bruins in round one.

The Bruins are setting records, running away with the eastern conference, and having themselves a "Last Dance" moment with their core of players.

They also are the head-and-shoulders favorite to win the Stanley Cup and outside of one or two teams, don't appear to have much of a challenger or equal.

But what if they did?

While an outdoor game at Fenway Park isn't much of a sample size and it could've just been an anomaly, the Penguins did a very good job of neutralizing the Bruins for about 50 minutes in the Winter Classic when those teams met on January 2.

They didn't allow the Bruins to maintain possession in the offensive zone, they worked the puck low-to-high with great efficiency and played a mostly mistake-free game.

With the Bruins expected to win the Stanley Cup and the Penguins expected to be cannon fodder, it could create a scenario for the Penguins to let it fly and see what happens.

Do I think that's possible? Not really, the Bruins are well-coached, talented, and have an insanely deep roster along with basically two starting goalies.

As the playoffs approach and the Penguins still search for an identity and answers, there is a way for this team to make some noise, but as we've discussed in this column before, way too many things have to go right and a lot of it is based solely on hope and vibes.

But, both in life and in sports, all you can ask for is a chance and the Penguins still have just that. 

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