Puck Dynasty; 4 Reasons the Penguins Can Have One Going
Lord Stanley's Cup has been hoisted, with the Pittsburgh Penguins earning the right to levitate North America's most valuable piece of silver (sorry Lombardi Trophy, but I can't drink out of that!). Defeating the San Jose Sharks in a six game set, the Pens captured their first title since 2009.
Back in '09, many were convinced the Pens had something truly special going, and had the great potential to kickstart a dynasty run. However, several years of futility followed, which included a couple of first round exits, a blown 3-1 series lead, and a humiliating conference finals sweep. However, with this latest Cup run, things are looking a little different for the Steel City champions...
They Have the Depth
One of the biggest black marks the Penguins had on their roster heading into the season was their depth. Sure, they already had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention welcoming in Phil Kessel via free agency. But there was plenty of unproven talent to go around, and a team that had latest a mere five game the previous postseason was mostly the same. However, several big names rose during the postseason run. Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bonino and Conor Sheary all established themselves as scoring threats throughout the postseason, and Carl Hagelin, whose overtime goal as a 2015 New York Ranger ironically bounced the Pens from the playoffs, was a key midseason acquisition. Furthermore, just 8 skaters on the Pens roster clock in at age 30 or later. Speaking of depth and youth...
They Have the Goalie
Goalie is to hockey what quarterback is to football. And we've seen teams straight up collapse without a good tender in net. For years, the Penguins relied on the services of Marc-Andre Fleury, who, perhaps somewhat unfairly, gained a reputation as a playoff choker, despite playing a key part of Pitt's 09 title run. When Fleury went down with an injury shortly before the playoffs, the team turned to the services of young Matt Murray, who had played in just 13 games before being inserted as the starter in the third game of the Penguins' opening series with the Rangers. Murray went on to win the remaining 15 games for the Penguins en route to the Cup, with Fleury making a brief, scary cameo in the conference finals. Murray posted a playoff goals against average of 2.08, and a save percentage of .923, going up against some of the most elite tenders in hockey like Henrik Lundqvist and Brayden Holtby. Murray could be just a flash in the pan rookie who disappears after his Cup debut year...just ask Hurricanes fans about Cam Ward...but if Murray continues his stellar play, we could see hockey's equivalent of the Bledsoe/Brady situation.
They Have the Coach
Mike Sullivan was given little to no room for error during a brief head coaching tenure with the Boston Bruins. He tallied 101 points with Boston in the final season before the canceled year of 2004-05, but after a first round exit, a 74 point return, which of course ended with no playoffs, caused him to become an assistant coaching nomad. During his decade in coaching purgatory, Sullivan spent time with several successful teams that fell jussssst short of getting to the Cup, wandering his way to the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks. He was finally given a shot at head coaching redemption when the Pittsburgh franchise tabbed him to be the coach of their minor league affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Given a promotion upon the ousting of Mike Johnston, Sullivan took a team that was wallowing around in the non-playoff depths of the Eastern Conference and immediately made them winners. Finding perfect lineup combinations and formulas, Sullivan was clearly a difference maker. The third coach in past three seasons for the Pens, just imagine what the team can do with some continuity in the head honcho spot.
They Have Sid
Look, love him or hate him....and growing up a Rangers fan, I've leaned toward the latter...there's no denying the extraordinarily talent that is Crosby. Once unquestionably regarded as the best player in hockey, Crosby saw that title slipping from his grip in recent years, with the rise of Alexander Ovechkin. However, 2016 saw a return to form for Crosby. Sure, his numbers stayed mostly the same, but Crosby became more of a leader, and expanded his game far beyond his scoring. That extra layer of grittiness paid off huge dividends and allowed the Penguins to end their losing ways in the playoffs. For his efforts, Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Award (playoff MVP in layman's terms) and scored his second career Stanley Cup victory. Crosby has constantly had to hear why he had only one Cup in his arsenal , a topic that constantly popped up when talking about where to stick Crosby among the greatest of all time. His second Cup only makes that discussion more intense....just imagine if he can do more in the near future.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490
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