First off, while I love broadcasting legend Bob Cole, Mike Emrick of NBC and Devils radio is the best in the business at the moment. I love the creativity and dark tones Emrick brings to the games, while his sidekicks, Eddy Olczyk and Pierre Mcguire are always amusing and insightful. I say this as I enjoy taking in the NBC game of the week: Pens V. Caps! Sure to be a battle.
Watching the Penguins I feel compelled to comment on a few things.
First, the Penguins have done a great job of retooling during the 2010 offseason. And make no mistake, they have retooled. This team is not about Crosby. I know Canadian pundits everywhere love to gaggle about the brilliance of Sir Sid. But the reality is, no matter what he does, no matter how he improves, or how much he scores, he is not the straw that stirs the drink in Pitt. For that matter, neither is Malkin.
Gone are Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, and Alexei Ponikarovsky, and if your a Penguins fan, I'm sure your saying good riddance, because what was brought in to replace them is far superior. Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek bring a different dimension to this team. Mobility and defensive acumen are what define this version of the Penguins. They are team that is driven by their back line. Martin, Michalek, Letang, and Goligoski are all great puck movers, with Letang having an All-Star year. Not only that, but with Orpik, their defence is also great in its own end, blocking shots, clogging lanes, and being physical. With Fleury playing at an elite level the back half of the Penguins is a unit which can match up with the other top teams in the league including Vancouver, Philly, and Detroit.
While Crosby is amazing, it’s clear that this is a team that relies on its mobile defence, and aggressive group of gritty forwards for success (Of which Crosby and Staal are a part). However, after Crosby and Malkin there isn't a great deal of skill in the forward group. Staal, while a great two way player, has average hands and can't match up offensively with other top six centers. Look at the rest of this group: Kunitz, Adams, Cooke, Rupp, Talbot, Kennedy, Letestu, Dupuis, Tangradi, Conner, and Asham. Not a single top six talent in the bunch, but because of the push from players like Martin and Letang, and because they all have speed, grit and that most clichéd idea...intangibles, they manage to generate enough goals to win games. You might say, well look at those two guys at the top end, they produce enough offense and make up for the lack of any top six wingers. I'd say, look at the Penguins record without those two players; very little drop off. I haven’t run the numbers, but I'm pretty sure the Penguins have a better record over the last three years without Crosby in the line-up, than with him. I’m not saying I actually believe the Penguins are a better team without Crosby, but it does illustrate that they can be a good club over stretches without him. This year the Penguins have played a total of 2 games with Malkin, Crosby and Staal in the line-up together. Yet they continue to win. Up front, it doesn't seem to matter who puts on the Penguin crest. This is because it’s not the forwards who make this team go, it’s their back end that carries them, and Dan Byslma who manages them.
Knuble just pumped in an empty netter, 3-0 win for the Caps over the Penguins. No Crosby, no Malkin...no goals
Does this disprove my point? You tell me. Letang and Fleury are the MVPs of this team...not Crosby. What says you?
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