As we gear up for yet another exciting run for the Stanley Cup, it appears that the Pittsburgh Penguins will finish within the top three in the Metro division, Evgeni Malkin will make a run for the Art Ross, and the team will ultimately finish with three 80+ points in Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby. With a healthy Matt Murray between the pipes, it seems as if the Pens are well on their way to a three peat. BUT that is strictly based on paper; here are three questions that all Pens fans should consider before heading into the playoffs:
- Does this team have the depth?
- What version of Kris Letang will we see?
- Which Penguins team will show up?
In years past, the Penguins had the luxary of players such as Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino to slide up and down their lineup when they needed a shake up or a player went down. Adding Derrick Brassard at the deadline adds an incredible amount of depth down the center no questions asked, but the question arises; what happens when someone gets injured? The Penguins do not have the depth in years past to have centers play up and down the lineup. Riley Sheahan proved he can play well when called upon but the center depth is simply not there after the top 3 centers. On defense is a completely diffrent story. Matt Hunwick has played himself out of the lineup and was ultimately replaced by Chad Ruhwedel. If someone on the back end goes down it is likely that Hunwick will replace that player but Pens fans have seen what he can bring to the table… not too much positive there. There are a few players in the AHL that would be likely call ups on defense, those players being Frank Corrado, and Zach Trotman who both have past NHL experience. For GMJR, not going out and getting another defensemen at the deadline could come back and hurt the team.
The situation is really simple. There are two versions of Kris Letang. First, there is the Letang who is buzzing around the ice, making a positive impact, chipping in offensively when needed, and shuts down the other teams superstars. All while Pens fans are cheering “Letang for Norris”.Then there is Letang number two who acts like the puck is a grenade on his stick, makes horrible breakout passes, costly turnovers, and bad offensive zone pinches. Although Letang has 45 points this season, his play reminds me of the Jack Rabbit at Kennywood, going up and down. Every night you never know what Kris Letang you are going to get. When Letang is labeled as your number one defensemen, you should know what kind of play you get every night. He’s not a superstar defensemen, he’s just not. The inconsistency in his game takes away from his superstar title. Do not get me wrong when Letang is good he’s REALLY good, but when he’s bad he’s EXTREMELY bad. There is no middle ground. Letang is a major key to a Penguins three peat.
Ultimately, it depends on what team shows up for the playoffs. Are we going to see the team that seems to score at will, the team that can put up four or five goals a game no problem? That team we’ve seen flashes of all season. When the top players are all playing to their capability, this Pens team appears unstoppable. On the flip side, we have seen this team struggle to keep the puck out of their own net and surrendered a ton on power play goals, which is very unlike the Pens if we look back in history. The Pens have speed, skill, and an amazing goalie; all a recipe for a successful hockey team.
Confidence is key, especially heading towards the playoffs. I feel as if the team will continue to gain momentum as we near playoff time. On the other hand, I do not know if I expect them to bring home another Stanley Cup. The East is loaded with powerhouse teams in the Lightning, Bruins, and of course the Capitals. I believe the Pens will escape the first round, but the following rounds will be hard fought, tough hockey that will be a complete toss up, but some damn good hockey.