It is June 12, 2009. The Pittsburgh Penguins have just walked into Joe Louis Arena and beaten the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, exacting their revenge on the team that robbed them one year prior. Move ahead one year to the 2009-10season, where the Penguins finished the season in fourth place in the Eastern conference, only to run into a hot goalie and be bounced from the playoffs in the second round. Since October 2007, the team had played a total of 303 games in slightly more than 1000 days. That is an astounding amount of hockey, going to the finals in two of those seasons, leaving very little time off to rest, relax, and recharge the batteries.
Going into this season, many pundits have turned on the Penguins. Questioning whether they have what it takes to keep winning in this league; that the loss of Sergei Gonchar and any viable option on the wings will hold this team back from competing for the Stanley Cup again this season. But what has really changed between when they went to the cup final and lost and this upcoming season?
The only real star winger they had in April 2008 was Marian Hossa. And they proved they didn’t need him by beating him, after he jumped to the Red Wings, the very next season. They still have two of the best five players in the game on the forward side. They still have an all-star top 10 goalie. And yes they lost Sergei Gonchar, but replaced him with two top three defencemen in Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek that a lot of other teams were trying to sign this July 1st. How big a loss is it, really?
Gonchar is a potent offensive defencemen that the Penguins have relied on for the past five seasons no doubt. He has tallied 134 points in 165 games over the past three regular seasons. Does that sound right? Sure that’s a great point per game pace but 165 games; that is an average of 55 games played. He was a minus four last year. The Penguins power play was ranked 19th last year and 20th the year before. Likely not a coincidence that he missed most of his time during these two seasons. But he is 36 years old; maybe things are starting to break down just a little. Maybe, it is time to let Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski take the reins on the offensive side of things. By bringing in Martin and Michalek, you have five capable players (in addition to Brooks Orpik) that provides the team with a stable of good defencemen to help both with and without the puck.
The Penguins are a team strong up the middle, with a solid top six defence, and a good acrobatic goalie. They like to play a high offense system. Their Penalty Kill has been excellent the past few years finishing in the top 10, while being in the top six of the goals for category. This team will do just as well this year. They will not drop off like some have predicted. In fact, after the game 7 loss to Montreal in round two earlier this year, I am guessing they are even hungrier to prove that this team belongs in the same sentence as the Red Wings and Devils and associated with the word dynasty.