Ever since the Pittsburgh Penguins used the first overall pick of the National Hockey League Draft in 2005 on center Sidney Crosby, the bar of expectations has changed in Western Pennsylvania. By 2008, the Pens were back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992, and by 2009, they were hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Since 2007, the Penguins have made the playoffs in each year, but they’ve been unable to replicate the success of 2009. Since 2006, Pittsburgh has used four different head coaches and they made another coaching change this season when Mike Johnston was replaced by Mike Sullivan on December 12. Sullivan’s arrival to Pittsburgh has lit a fire under the Penguins as they are 33-16-5 on his watch, and with the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin tonight, this could be a very dangerous team.
The presence of Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury have made the Penguins a consistent contender, but when the team acquired right winger Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, that is when the expectations went through the roof. But as it took that talent some time to mesh together, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford couldn’t wait which is why he made the move to bring in Sullivan in spite of the fact that the club had a winning record under Johnston. However it wasn’t until an under the radar trade happened that the Penguins began to live up to their potential.
In late January, the Penguins acquired left winger Carl Hagelin from the Anaheim Ducks. Hagelin had spent the first four years of his National Hockey League career with the New York Rangers and he was a member of their Eastern Conference Championship team in 2014. But last summer, Hagelin became a cap casualty which resulted in the Rangers trading him to the Ducks. But in Anaheim, Hagelin struggled mightily as he only managed to produce 12 points in 43 games which resulted in the trade to Pittsburgh which has given him new life. In just 37 games with the Pens, Hagelin has accounted for 27 points and with him on the roster, the team’s record is 27-9-1.
But make no mistake about it that the engine that makes the Pittsburgh locomotive go is Crosby. This season Crosby led the Penguins in points (85), and goals scored (36), while he finished just one assist away from his third consecutive year in which he would have tallied 50 assists. And although that Crosby will more than likely not be selected to be the MVP of the National Hockey League this season, his ability as a play maker could be the difference in how far that the Penguins will advance in the postseason. Crosby has the ability to put the Penguins on his back for long stretches of play as his ability gives Pittsburgh the edge that they need to compete with some of the better teams in the NHL this season such as the Washington Capitals. Crosby’s play making ability will definitely be put to the test as Pittsburgh is still without Malkin as he is recovering from an arm injury.
Pittsburgh will get the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off tonight against a team that they are very familiar with in the Rangers. The Rangers have knocked the Pens out of the postseason in each of the last two years. But it is the Penguins who had the 3-1 series edge over the Rangers during the regular season this time around. The Penguins must find a way to do something which is very difficult to do in the postseason, which is to get to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who can be more difficult to navigate than rush hour traffic in New York City. However the Pens have Fluery who himself is no slouch between the pipes as he only allowed 2.27 goals against him per game this season and he could be the difference maker in this series as the Rangers offense has been known to go through spells where they struggle to score.
Although that the Capitals finished this season with the best record in the National Hockey League, you cannot overlook the Penguins who not only have star appeal, but they are also riding a huge wave of momentum into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as it isn’t how you start, but more of how you finish. The Penguins have a core group of players that have drank out of Lord Stanley’s Cup before, and it would not surprise me to see them do it once more this June.