After playing their way in to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins no longer have a reason for playoff misfortune.
Experience is a valuable tool to have when it comes to the second season in the National Hockey League. Every remaining player from 2007-2008 knows what it will take to bring home the cup. Their new teammates do too.
The additions of Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Eric Godard and Miroslav Satan have filled up what is shaping out to be a balanced set of lines. The four also have seen time in the post-season, which should allow the entire squad to hit the playoffs in stride.
Together, they have played in 155 playoff games and scored 68 points. Godard has played in seven playoff games; Cooke in 39; Fedotenko in 53; and Satan in 56.
Janne Pesonen has also become accustomed to post-season play, having played in the post-season in Finland the last five years, going the distance to win four times (Granted the seasons are shorter and the competition is far more meager).
However before one can say that the new squad will be able to match up to last years’, it is necessary to take a deep look in to what the Penguins have lost.
Free-agency has claimed former Penguins Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Adam Hall and Ty Conklin. Together the seven have played in a combined 363 playoff games. Accordingly, they combine for 197 points in the post-season.
On any team in any league, the loss of quality numbers like those just listed could turn a contender in to a dreamer.
This difference that I see is that the Pens have players capable of picking up the slack.
We all saw what happened to Evgeni Malkin as the playoffs wore on. Now he knows what it will take and, barring injury, should be better prepared to go the distance.
Also, it’s scary to see how well he played in his first long run. Same goes for Sidney Crosby. It was the first extended stretch for the two in the playoffs, and they surely impressed.
Both averaged over a point a game in the 20 playoff games Pittsburgh played, with Crosby accumulating 27 points (6 G – 21 A) and Malkin 22 (10 G – 12 A).
On top of that, Marc-Andre Fleury excelled as well. Flower posted a 1.97 goals against average and stopped better than 93-percent of the shots he faced.
By facing the toughest competition of their careers, these three have no excuses. They are impact players, a.k.a. they make the players around them better.
Sid will have new wingers to play with, and hopefully will see time with relatively the same guys throughout the entire season – something he hasn’t really had the benefit of thus far in his career.
Malkin should do the same, and he can build upon the chemistry he and Petr Sykora developed.
The most glaring point to be made about the Penguins is the strength of their blue line. Pittsburgh has more capable defensemen than they know what to do with.
Kris Letang impressed virtually everybody after a disappointing camp. Combine that with the increased improvements of Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, along with the addition of Hal Gill, and you have quite a stable of defensemen.
Don’t forget, the most underrated and underappreciated defenseman in the National Hockey League, Sergei Gonchar, is the leader of the bunch.
Ryan Whitney struggled last season, but it’s nice when a guy like Whit is your biggest concern.
The point of all of this is that the Penguins have no more need for veteran leadership – they are all veterans now. They have gone as far as one can go in one season, and have experienced everything short of lifting the cup.
They have swept teams, they have faced adversity, they have played in to the wee hours of the morning, and they have suffered through injuries. This team has done it all, and now they have no excuses.
With all that being said, I must say that it is hard to repeat a season like the Pens had last year. It took every ounce of sweat they had to get to the finals, and to ask that of a player year after year is more than a lot.
However, I feel the Penguins have the ability to do so. By simply staying healthy all season, which is never easy to do, the Penguins should be the front-runner for home ice throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
If they don’t, it won’t be because of moves Ray Shero didn’t make. He has done everything he could so far this off-season, and the players he acquired are solid.
Time will tell, but I expect the Penguins to be champions of the Atlantic Division once again in 2009 and primed for another long run in the playoffs.
I’ll be waiting in excitement to grow my beard.