Why I Continue to Marvel at the Penguins
Most teams would have folded up faster than Superman on laundry day in the face of the sheer number of games then Penguins lost to injury last season.
Sidney Crosby’s much talked about concussion, Evgeni Malkin’s knee and Jordan Staal’s broken hand meant all three missed approximately half the season. In other words, Pittsburgh’s 1, 2 and 3 guys missed significant time last season – including the play-offs in Crosby and Malkin’s case.
But they franchise still finished 4th in the East, only missing out on the Atlantic Division by virtue of a tie break with Philadelphia. Despite blowing a 3-1 series lead to be knocked out in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals by Tampa Bay; few would have expected the Pens to finish the season as strongly as they did.
Coach Dan Bylsma earned himself a Jack Adams transforming the offensive powerhouse in to a defensive unit that would make even the most hardened Jacques Lemaire fan impressed.
The Pens opened the new season still without their Captain, Malkin has missed time with soreness in his surgically repaired knee, and yet the franchise still finds itself top of the East.
Ok, a scheduling quirk means they have played 4 more games than the currently undefeated Washington Capitals, but the Penguins play has been exceptional of late and once again they have to be seen as Cup contenders.
Pittsburgh is almost becoming the new model for a successful franchise. Even the front office deserves its praise; with Ray Shero proving to be as smart of a General Manager as there is in the league right now. Walking away from Sergei Gonchar’s demands seemed wise, and his acquisition of James Neal from Dallas now seems like a masterstroke as the winger has gone on a scoring streak through the opening fortnight.
With Malkin slated to return to the line up this week, and Crosby participating in some contact drills in practise now, it’s pretty scary to think what the Penguins might be capable of if they are among the leagues top sides now and look set to welcome back two of the games elite players ahead of the final furlongs of the regular season and the play-offs this year!
It’s no mere luck that the Pens have ridden out the injury bug which hit the team and have come out the other side a stronger unit. Pre-season I tipped them for the Cup, although it’s certainly early in the new season I am more resolute in that belief than ever
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 champions elect – the Pittsburgh Penguins