I’ll give the Pittsburgh Penguins this. At least they’ve been consistent. Even in how they ended the 2023-24 season during a 5-4 loss on the road against the New York Islanders.

One more blown lead. One more goal allowed just before the buzzer of a period. One more goal was given back less than five minutes after they scored one themselves.

All they needed was to lose the game in overtime and the holy quadrangle of Penguins fatal flaws would have been completed one more time.

Wait. What about the rotten power play, you ask?

Well, actually, it was good Wednesday in the season finale, scoring twice against the playoff bound Islanders. Stunningly, we witnessed four goals in the last three games for the 31st-ranked man-up unit.

Where was that all season?

Aside from that blip, Game 82 had a lot of similarities to the 81 before it. That was a bad thing on the scoreboard to end the year. Although maybe it’s not such a bad thing in the big picture. Maybe it was a reality check.

It was one last reminder of faults that plagued this team all year. One last encapsulation of the perpetual shortcoming this group repeatedly illustrated since October.

Perhaps it was a parting shot for general manager Kyle Dubas, coach Mike Sullivan and Fenway Sports Group to take into the offseason and digest as they consider why this year ended up even worse than last.


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The 2023-24 season was supposed to erase the franchise’s first playoff miss since 2006. Instead, the Penguins dropped from ninth place to 10th and from 91 points to 88.

This year’s Penguins team didn’t get better; it got worse. That’s despite acquiring Erik Karlsson. That’s despite jettisoning a lot of the bad additions to the roster from the Ron Hextall era.

Don’t sugarcoat it. The Penguins regressed in the final standings. Oh, and as a comp, 88 points might have kept them within three points of a playoff spot this year in the soft underbelly of the second cut of the Eastern Conference. Out west, they would’ve missed by at least nine points.

The things that kept the Penguins relevant as the season limped along were a shoddy race for the East’s last playoff spot and a late-season push that the club hadn’t put together for much of the previous six months.

The Pens ended the year going 8-2-3 over the last 13 games, by far the only extended stretch of winning hockey that they enjoyed since a five-game win streak in early November.

It was way too little, way too late. Hopefully, those in management positions aren’t fooled into thinking the latest surge was anything more than a false dawn to keep the franchise competitive in a sea of mediocrity at the bottom of the conference.

There are some obvious components to happily retain. Sidney Crosby ought to get his extension hammered out quickly after a great season, and Bryan Rust keeps entrenching his career as a fantastic Penguin. Michael Bunting isn’t Jake Guentzel, but he’s showing to be a worthy exchange piece from that trade. Drew O’Connor and Valtteri Puustinen are starting to scratch the surface. Lars Eller is worth keeping for the final year of his deal.

On the blue line, Ryan Shea and Jack St. Ivany were inexpensive late-season revelations. P.O Joseph finally started to show progress, and Marcus Pettersson is a solid second-pair defenseman.

Alex Nedeljkovic’s Mason Rudolph-esque run in net was fun to watch. He’s a great story and a good guy. But he’s not a No. 1 goalie. He’s a good No. 2. If the Pens can keep him under those circumstances, wonderful. But nothing more. Heading into Wednesday’s game Nedeljkovic’s save percentage was .867 over his final six games, and his goals against average was 3.67.

Remember, those were numbers, mainly when he was winning. Let’s not get carried away.

Meanwhile, the organization appears to have given up on Tristan Jarry just one year into a five-year contract. And I wonder if the goalie has given up on the organization.

Karlsson didn’t live up to the hype and was a nightly roller-coaster ride. Ryan Graves was disastrous. Reilly Smith, Noel Acciari and Matt Nieto were — to be kind — inconsequential. Rickard Rakell is a decent middle-six forward but not worth a $5 million ticket. Jeff Carter is retiring. That’ll help clear a spot, but his contract was coming off the books anyway.

Then there’s Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin at $6.1 million each. To me that feels like nothing more than $12.2 million of … stuck. Whatever Crosby has left in the tank, they don’t to that level, despite some early season good play from Letang that wobbled in March and a late burst from Malkin after being a shadow of himself for much of the season.

Aside from that, sure, the roster is in great shape.

Does that sound to you like a team poised to make a playoff run next year? Or does it sound like a club that is more likely to miss the playoffs for a third straight campaign? That would be a first since the 2002-06 crew.

Following the loss to New York, Sullivan spoke of the roster’s late-season push.

“We were really proud of the group,” Sullivan said. “A month ago, we weren’t in the greatest situation, and there was a lot of drama around the team. Our guys, they had a choice, which direction they wanted to go. It could’ve went the wrong way really easily. I think it speaks volumes of the people in the design room.”

I get Sullivan’s point about the resolve of the team. I hate to break it to him, though; the group didn’t exactly end up in a great situation either, playing a meaningless game at the end of the season for a second straight year.

And there will be plenty more drama this offseason — whether it results in substantive change or not.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via X. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.