Penguins disappoint in first half of season

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Penguins disappoint in first half of season

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Nathan Breisinger, Staff Writer

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After back-to-back Stanley Cups, many had high hopes for the Pittsburgh Penguins coming into the 2017-18 NHL season.

But as the Pens have reached the halfway point of the season, they have failed to meet their high preseason expectations. After 41 games, the Pens sit tenth in the Eastern Conference, going 20-18-3 with 43 points.

The Pens may be only two points out of a playoff spot, but fans and sports analysts thought they would be much higher in the standings.

There have been many factors contributing to the team’s slow first half.

First, the team lacks depth, unlike their championship teams. This was noticeable early in the season when Greg McKegg, who centered the third line, was not living up to the Pens’ expectations. So General Manager Jim Rutherford traded for center Riley Sheahan.

Additional key players the Penguins lost included Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz,  Trevor Daley, and Marc-Andre Fleury. These trustworthy contributors were never replaced by other strong players. Instead the Pens traded for Ryan Reaves, signed Matt Hunwick, and now rely on young players from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Along with their depth players not contributing as much, stars Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang have struggled so far this season.

Although Crosby has 36 points, his play still lacks consistency, and Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin have needed to step up more than ever.

For Kris Letang, battling injuries the past couple of seasons has affected his play this year, as his Norris Trophy caliber capabilities have vanished and he is making more mistakes than ever before.

Also, the Pens have had to deal with injuries up and down their roster. Guys like Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and others have spent a share of time battling injuries off the ice.

As the Penguins head into their second half of the season, their chance at a three-peat looks bleak.

Trades could be looming in the next few weeks as rumors have surfaced throughout the year of potentially trading Letang and others, along with talks of acquiring superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson. These talks have been put down, but a trade or two might be necessary for the Pens to improve in the second half.

Over the next 41 games, the Pens will need to be more focused and search for more consistency from their stars if they want to get a solid playoff seed. If not, they could could find themselves in a bad situation come postseason.