The Pittsburgh Penguins failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The Penguins (38-31-12) were eliminated from contention when the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 on Tuesday.

After qualifying for the playoffs 16 consecutive seasons from 2007-2022 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017, Pittsburgh has failed to qualify for the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time during captain Sidney Crosby’s 19-season NHL career. Before last season, the Penguins had not missed the playoffs since Crosby’s rookie season of 2005-06, which capped a drought of four straight seasons without a playoff appearance (2002-2006).

Here’s a look at what happened in the 2023-24 season for the Penguins and why things could be better next season.

The skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Jeff Carter, F; Jansen Harkins; F; Vinnie Hinostroza, F; Radim Zohorna, F; Ryan Shea, D; Alex Nedeljkovic, G

Potential restricted free agents: Emil Bemstrom, F; Samuel Poulin, F; Valtteri Puustinen, F; Jonathan Gruden, F; Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D; Jack St. Ivany, D

Potential 2024 Draft picks: 6

What went wrong

Late push not enough: The Penguins climbed back into playoff contention with a 10-game point streak (7-0-3) from March 24-April 11, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their earlier struggles. Pittsburgh was 30-30-9 and nine points out of a playoff spot following a 3-9-1 slide from Feb. 29-March 22 that contributed to the decision to trade forward Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes before the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline on March 8.  

Power-play troubles: Despite having a star-studded offensive lineup and the offseason acquisition of Erik Karlsson, who led NHL defensemen with 101 points last season (25 goals, 76 assists), the Penguins’ power play was a season-long issue, failing to produce in key moments. Pittsburgh is 31st in the NHL on the man-advantage at 14.6 percent, ahead of only the Philadelphia Flyers (12.2 percent) and has given up 12 short-handed goals, tying the Montreal Canadiens for most in the League.

Inconsistent goaltending: After signing a five-year contract last offseason ($5.375 million average annual value) to remain the Penguins No. 1, Tristan Jarry watched as backup Alex Nedeljkovic was one of the driving forces behind the late-season playoff push. Nedeljkovic was 7-0-3 with a 2.81 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in starting every game during the point streak. Although Jarry (19-25-5, 2.91 GAA, .903 save percentage) is tied for the NHL lead in shutouts (six), he’s had as many starts when he was replaced, and is a 7-13-1 with a 3.49 GAA, .886 save percentage and one shutout since Jan. 20. Nedeljkovic (18-6-7, 2.91 GAA, .904 save percentage, one shutout) has been a solid backup, but is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Reasons for optimism

Sid’s still got it: Crosby almost willed the Penguins into the playoffs, showing no signs of slowing down during his 19th NHL season with 92 points (42 goals, 50 assists) in 81 games. The 36-year-old center became the seventh player in NHL history to score at least 40 goals at age 36 or older and averaged at least a point a game for the 19th season, tying Wayne Gretzky for the most in NHL history. Expect more of the same next season.

PIT@MTL: Crosby nets PPG for second goal of the night

Joel Blomqvist: The 22-year-old could be the long-term solution to Pittsburgh’s goaltending issue. In his first full season in North America, the native of Uusikaarlepyy, Finland, has been one of the best goalies in the American Hockey League with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Blomqvist, a second-round pick (No. 52) in 2020 NHL Draft, is fifth in the AHL in wins (25-11-6), third in GAA (2.14) and fifth in save percentage (.921).

Deeper prospect pool: Acquiring forward prospects Vasily Ponomarev and Ville Koivunen, the rights to forward Cruz Lucius, a conditional first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft in the trade for Guentzel gives Pittsburgh more pieces for the future. Add them to promising defenseman prospect Owen Pickering (No. 21 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft), forward prospect Brayden Yager (No. 14 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft) and Blomqvist, and there could soon be help on the way for the Penguins’ aging core.