Penguins must ask difficult questions if they lose early or embarrassingly

If results define a team’s success, expectations are what makes those results measurable. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a franchise rich in top-end talent, thus, comes great expectations to win the Stanley Cup every single year. In 2008 and 2009, a younger Penguins core played in back-to-back Finals, winning and losing once. Since then, expectations have been obvious: make the Finals or an opportunity was blown.

From 2010 to 2013 – four straight postseasons – the Penguins have played more playoff hockey than most NHL franchises. In fact, there are many clubs that would be all smiles and satisfaction to have made the playoffs continuously, like the Penguins. But the Penguins’ success is measured by Stanley Cup titles and nothing else. This core has won one.

This core: it looked early ’80s Oilers half a decade ago, but things have changed; results have been disappointing. Since winning the Cup in 2009 the Penguins have only advanced to the Conference Finals once – a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in 2013.

Here they are now, playing run and gun with the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets — a franchise that has one ever postseason win in its history — and the first-round series between them is tied at one apiece, heading to Columbus for Game 3.

In recent postseasons Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been the poster boy for the club’s inability to meet expectations, but The Flower has played well so far against the CBJ. Well enough, to not take the blame, anyway.

And when the Bruins ousted the Penguins one year ago, in one of the most incredible displays of defensive supremacy in NHL history, Fleury was not even in net — it was Tomas Vokoun manning the crease. Not that it mattered, the Penguins didn’t lose to Boston because of poor goaltending; they lost because they scored 2 goals in four games.

The Penguins haven’t had a scoring problem against the Columbus Blue Jackets this spring, they have had a problem preventing goals — the Penguins have allowed 7 goals in two games. At that pace they need to score 4 goals per game to win, and that’s tough to do in the postseason. The Penguins must tighten up defensively or their playoff fate in the spring of 2014 will be a repeat of post-2009 tournaments.

If the Penguins lose to the Blue Jackets, or the Flyers/Rangers in the second-round, or to the Bruins/Red Wings/Canadiens/Lightning in the third-round, general manager Ray Shero needs to ask some difficult questions about his team’s core group of players. Questions like:

If we’re going to be a team that gives up a lot of scoring chances, is Marc-Andre Fleury the right goalie for us?

Is it time for a coaching change to change the perspective and strategy of this team?

Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi: are these guys still capable of a four round Cup run?

Do we need Crosby and Malkin down the middle? Can we continue competing in a depth-rules in the postseason league with so much salary tied up in two centres? What is Evgeni Malkin’s trade value?

Drastic questions, but perhaps questions that need to be asked. The Penguins window isn’t closed yet, but it won’t remain open forever with the current core that used to be young and destined to win multiple Stanley Cups. The core is aging and the window is closing, albeit slowly.

Ray Shero’s Penguins set the bar really high making back-to-back Finals and each postseason since has been a failure to meet expectations. What will it take for Penguins management, players and fans to consider the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs a success? The only answer is “winning the Stanley Cup.” Fifteen more wins to go. This is a huge playoffs for the Penguins.