The 2006-2007 NHL season came to an abrupt end for the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, as they were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators. The same Senators team, in name only, who the Penguins recently beat three straight times in the regular season. The reason I say in name only, is because the Senators picked it up a notch for the playoffs and simply dominated this young Penguins team, in almost every facet of the game.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby had very impressive playoff debuts, and Gary Roberts showed why Ray Shero worked hard to acquire him, by playing with an edge and punishing every player in his path, with a few exceptions. I truly hope the Penguins make every attempt possible to re-sign him in the offseason because his leadership qualities are priceless to this young team.
Even though the season ended in a way that many Pens fans didn't want to see, there is nothing for those players to hang their heads about. They finished with 105 points on the season, which was enough for the 5th best team turnaround in NHL history, and for that I thank Ray Shero, Head Coach Michel Therrien and the former Pens GM, Craig Patrick because he drafted that entire team. The players deserve the most praise as they exceeded expectations, and without their play on the ice, a new arena may not be in motion as we speak. The fans of this team also deserve credit for the arena as well, because from the start, they were buying tickets and showing support for the young Penguins, and the support and attendance only got better as the season wore on.
Now for some player reviews: I have run out of words to describe the things that Sidney Crosby can do on the ice, and this season he propelled to the top of the NHL scoring race and became the youngest player in NHL history to win the Art Ross Trophy, and may possibly add the Hart Trophy to his collection at the end of the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin had a spectacular rookie season, despite missing time with a seperated shoulder. He overcame the language barrier, the culture barrier and adapted to the different style of play in the NHL and led all rookies in every major statistical category. He ran out of gas down the stretch, but still fought hard in most games and created opportunities for his teammates.
Jordan Staal exceeded all expectations, and proved all the media personnel in Pittsburgh who said he should go back to juniors wrong in his rookie campaign. He scored as many goals, 29, as his older brother Eric, and became the youngest player in NHL history to record a hat-trick. He also had an amazing 7 shorthanded goals this season for the Penguins, and were it not for Malkin's scoring totals, would probably win the Rookie of the Year.
Marc-Andre Fleury had an outstanding season, despite some lulls in his play during the middle of the season. He proved to me, that he is indeed the franchise goaltender that this team had been searching for, and proved (in my mind anyway) that he can handle the pressure of the playoffs. Had it not been for his play, the Penguins could have very easily been swept in their first series, and may have lost all those games by HUGE margins. Fleury became the second winningest regular season goaltender in Penguins history, behind only Tom Barrasso and the President's Trophy team of 1992-1993.
Everyone in Pittsburgh is absolutely thrilled with how well this team played, and sure, there is a feeling of dissapointment with the way it ended, but we fans (and I'm sure you can say this for the organization, and in time, the players) are happy with the overall result. Thanks for a great season and the memories!