Yohe’s 10 season observations: On Sidney Crosby, Kyle Dubas, the Penguins’ future and what comes next

ELMONT, N.Y. — The Penguins’ season ended on Wednesday in a 5-4 setback against the New York Islanders, on a night that will be remembered for being Jeff Carter’s final NHL game.

Carter, Evgeni Malkin, Valtteri Puustinen and Rickard Rakell scored for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby set up Malkin and Carter’s goals but was denied by Ilya Sorokin on a penalty shot that would have evened the game in the final seconds of the third period.

The Penguins will meet with the media for the final time this season on Thursday morning, while general manager/president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas will speak with reporters on Friday at 10 a.m.

Ten post-season observations 

• I suppose we should start the observations with a few thoughts on Crosby.

Before Wednesday’s understandably lifeless morning skate, there was Crosby, standing in the right-wing circle by his lonesome, receiving feed after feed from goaltender coach Andy Chiodo, firing pucks relentlessly into the net. Watching him in that environment, when the Penguins’ playoff chances had ended 12 hours earlier, was really something to see. He is who he is, even when the game literally doesn’t matter. Since his rookie season, Crosby has only participated in two games — this game on Long Island, and the season finale in Columbus last year — that didn’t matter.

But you wouldn’t know it by his work ethic and his level of preparation. It’s all part of his lore.

He finished the season with 94 points, one more than last season. He is now tied with Teemu Selanne for the most points in NHL history for a player in his age-36 season.

Crosby, who turns 37 in August, is just about as great as he ever was entering what will be his 20th season. Think about that.

A brilliant season from the captain was very much wasted.

• Evgeni Malkin scored the 498th goal of his Hall of Fame career, meaning a special milestone will be coming very early next season.

For most of the season, Malkin didn’t look himself. Then, along came Michael Bunting, who was apparently the winger Malkin needed. We know that Malkin isn’t the player he once was, primarily because his wheels no longer function like they once did.

He’s still, however, a perfectly good No. 2 center. He simply looks like great players are supposed to look when they’re near the end. I don’t think it’s fair to Malkin to compare him to Crosby’s current form.

As for No. 500?

“I would have liked to have gotten it tonight,” Malkin said. “But it’s OK. It will be better if I can do it with my family in the building.”

• So, Alex Nedeljkovic received a 13th straight start in the regular season finale. Thirteen! Tristan Jarry is perfectly healthy and hasn’t gotten a start since March 22. That was the game in Dallas, the one where Jarry shot daggers at defensemen after a couple of goals allowed. If you don’t believe me, watch the tape.

You’d think, maybe, the Penguins would have given their “No. 1 goalie” at least one more start before the season concluded, especially given that they’ve gotten quite a look at Nedeljkovic during the past month.

But nah.

There’s no way Jarry isn’t in the doghouse.

I’m compelled to wonder if Jarry is the right goaltender for this team. He did plenty of good things this season. He’s got talent. He also hasn’t been able to guide this team to the playoffs in the past two seasons, and he has a lifetime 2-6 postseason record. And he makes a lot of money. For four more years.

Joel Blomqvist is a really, really good goaltending prospect and he should be NHL-ready by next season. Nedeljkovic, who is an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, is a solid guy to have around.

• Bryan Rust should be wearing a letter on his chest.

I realize you don’t get that privilege in Pittsburgh unless you’re a Hall of Famer, which is perfectly reasonable. However, my respect for Rust only grows. The guy has been playing hurt all season, then he got hurt in the second period against the Islanders, and yet he didn’t miss a shift.

You win Stanley Cups with people like him.

• It was a special night for Carter.

He started on Wednesday. Crosby slid over to the left wing, in fact, to let Carter take the draw. Quite a classy move by the captain.

If this is the end for Carter, I give him credit. He was better this year than he was last year, which is hard to do at 39. His contract was a bad one, but that isn’t his fault, and some of the vitriol I’ve seen spewed at him on social media has been pretty disheartening.

He’s a two-time champion, a Hall of Fame caliber player in his prime and a great, great big-game player. He also loves Pittsburgh and is interested in working in the Penguins organization once he retires. He and his family plan on living in Pittsburgh. He’s taken many young players under his wing this season, namely Jack St. Ivany. He handled November healthy scratches with class and professionalism.

Blame Ron Hextall for that contract. You’d have signed it if you were in Carter’s shoes, too.

And that moment, when Crosby set him up for his final goal, was pure magic.

“F——- perfect,” Carter said.

• Kyle Dubas should do everything in his power to deal Reilly Smith this summer. He’s either aging, a horrible fit, doesn’t want to play in Pittsburgh, or all three.

If he can find a buyer, he should sell in a heartbeat.

• Kris Letang is a big concern moving forward. He turns 37 next week and has played some of the worst hockey of his career during the past two months.

He missed numerous practices and morning skates, so I’ll assume he’s been playing hurt. That would be ideal for the Penguins, because if this is Father Time showing up to battle the impossibly fit Letang, that’s a huge problem, given that he has four years remaining on his contract.

• Dubas will speak with the media in the next couple of days, and it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about this team. If indeed the plan is to return to the postseason next year — all of you fans wanting an immediate, full rebuild are going to have to wait for a while, I think — then the single biggest problem I see on this roster is the lack of offense from the bottom six.

It’s a massive, gaping hole for the Penguins. Lars Eller was the only reasonable source of offense from the bottom six all season. Dubas simply needs to go to work in that department if the Penguins are going to be better next season.

• Kudos to Marcus Pettersson. He’s the real deal. Time to pay him this summer.

P-O Joseph certainly played better in the second half of the season. I know management likes him. Is he really a top-four defenseman? I have my doubts, but I do think he’s a legitimate NHL defenseman. There’s a difference between those two things, though.

• I found this interesting. Take it for what you will.

After the game, Mike Sullivan said that he feels completely different about the end of this season compared to 12 months ago.

The Penguins ended last season on an utter downer. This season? Quite the opposite. Sullivan suddenly sounds very optimistic about next season.

Is this fair? Maybe. Crosby is still great. Young players like Drew O’Connor, P-O Joseph, St. Ivany and Ryan Shea are clearly improving and already NHL-caliber. The Penguins are flawed, yes. And are miles away from being a Cup team.

But don’t be surprised if they go all in next season.

(Photo: Dennis Schneidler / USA Today)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top