Three months ago today, the Penguins' season changed when Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman crashed Sidney Crosby's head into the boards. It didn't seem all that momentous at the time - Crosby continued to play that night. But he hasn't been back since. All this time later and still it's unknown when or if he'll be cleared to play in the upcoming playoffs.
With just three games to go in the regular season, the Pens are all but locked in to play that same Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There's still much to determine, namely which team will claim the higher seed and get home ice advantage.
Last week's 2-1 defeat at the hand of the Lightning shows the Penguins are still a team with much uncertainty. Put Crosby's murky status aside, and two glaring issues remain: the inability to stage third period comebacks and a totally inefficient power play.
Hockey teams in this day and age try to get a lead and clamp down on it. For their part, Pittsburgh is pretty good at this - they're 29-3-1 if they take a lead into the third period. However, they are unequivocally the worst in the league if they are losing after 40 minutes. The Pens are an astounding 0-19-1.
It almost needs to be stated again: zero wins if they are losing after two periods. Every other team in the league has been able to pull a comeback at least once this season. That metric doesn't capture the effort level, but it does show, in brutal fashion, that the results just haven't been there.
The power play has also been frustrating. With the injuries to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (two players who combined for 62 power play points last season) there's already a lack of talent. When defenseman Alex Goligoski was traded in February, the wheels fell off the bus completely. Pittsburgh's power play might be a "man advantage," but that hasn't meant more scoring. The Penguins' power play is 3-for-64 in the last 19 games.
One would seemingly have better odds playing the lottery than seeing the Pens cash in on their 4.68 percent power play during this stretch. You would think that by accident a team with 64 power plays could score at least a few goals off of lucky bounces or crazy plays that slip in.
Whether their captain can make a return or not, the Penguins need more firepower. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the overall team defense have done an admirable job of keeping the puck out of the net. It's the scorers who need to step up. We're talking Chris Kunitz (no goals in six games) Jordan Staal (no goals in seven games), James Neal (one regulation goal in 17 games as a Penguin), Alex Kovalev (two regulation goals in 17 games), Mark Letestu (one goal in his last 10 games). This isn't news to anyone who's watched the team, but it still needs to be said.
Those are the guys who are getting prime scoring minutes not cashing in. Even if Crosby returns, it'd be unreasonable to expect he picks up his point production pace right where he left off.
The Penguins might have the defense and goalie to keep them into games, but if they don't have a few comebacks and power play goals in them, it's going to be a quick exit from the playoffs that they've worked so hard to get to.