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Penguins Perspectives: Are you in?

Ireland Contracting Nightly Sports Call: April 11, 2024
Ireland Contracting Nightly Sports Call: April 11, 2024 13:46

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

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - We start this week's Penguins Perspectives with a simple question - who are you and what have you done with the 2023-24 Pittsburgh Penguins? 

It was not but about two weeks ago when one of the most-followed Stanley Cup Playoffs odds trackers, MoneyPuck, had the Penguins with just a 1.4% chance of making the postseason. 

As we awoke from our slumber this morning following a blood-pressure-raising overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings, the Penguins now sit in the second wild card spot with three games remaining and MoneyPuck puts them at a 57.2% chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Alright, fine we'll ask another question - how the hell did we get here? 

Well, it's certainly fair to credit the play of captain Sidney Crosby. In 10 games he has 20 points. He tied Wayne Gretzky's record of consecutive point-per-game seasons with 19, he took sole possession of 10th all-time in points with 1,591, and he became just the 14th player in NHL history to record 1,000 assists. 

He continues to cement his place in hockey history as one of the all-time greats. 

You most certainly could credit Alex Nedeljkovic who has stepped up amidst the struggles of Tristan Jarry to the tune of a 10-game point streak that has seen this team go 7-0-3 and score 38 goals while only allowing 24 against. 

Evgeni Malkin and his running mates Michael Bunting and Rickard Rakell certainly deserve credit because they've woken up Geno, revived Rakell's season, and Bunting has been everything this team has been missing these last few years. 

Erik Karlsson has finally begun to look like Erik Karlsson. Sure, the points may not reflect that, but take a look beyond just the stat line and watch the tape. He's playing well, he's owning the puck, he's leading the breakout, and getting scoring chances. 

All of the aforementioned people are certainly worthy of praise, credit, or whatever you want to call it, for the Penguins' turnaround and potential playoff berth. 

For me, there are two people who are owed quite a few kudos. 

That's Mike Sullivan and Kyle Dubas. 

No, they are not absolved of past sins. No, they haven't had some super secret plan that they've been carrying out behind the scenes and we've all been too dumb to notice. 

It doesn't negate some of the questionable lineup decisions, deployment decisions, and the still awful power play, that have marked a season of struggle for Mike Sullivan.

It doesn't forgive the Ryan Graves signing, the disappointing waiver wire acquisitions, or other questionable signings this past offseason for Kyle Dubas. 

What they deserve credit for is belief and buy-in. 

Dubas believed in his group, in the core of players that have brought Pittsburgh three championships, and the coach who won two of those three. 

Whatever buttons Mike Sullivan found to press were certainly the right ones because this team is playing a kind of hockey they haven't played in a couple of years - a smothering forecheck, a relentless penalty kill, and a commitment to team defense. 

The story isn't done, there are still three games left against three extremely formidable opponents. 

They still have the chance to make the playoffs and at this point, they control their own fate by how those games go. 

A playoff berth isn't clinched yet, in fact, it's still essentially a conflip. 

There are a lot of questions surrounding this iteration of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but over the next week, they can answer a very important one: 

Are you in?

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