By: Matthew Petersen
Like all of the Pittsburgh Penguin faithful out there, I experienced a wide range of emotions Monday. If you were like me, you woke and upon realizing what day it was you were hit with immediate anxiety. As the morning progressed, you were able to calm yourself a bit as you read Pittsburgh friendly media. Then stupidly, you jumped over to ESPN and had your feelings of hope immediately changed back to a mixture of anxiety and fear. You read all about how this is apparently the “Sharks’ Year.” The numerous articles (in which the coverage is still laughable in comparison to all other sports) referenced the Sharks as the team of destiny. They would win because they have veteran leadership, play four solid lines, they play with deceptive speed, have strong defensive play, possess a dangerous power play, and as the mainstream media can’t get enough of… Brent Burns and Joe Thornton have impressive beards.
I understand the San Jose Sharks are here for the first time, and it’s nice that their veterans helped get the proverbial monkey off the back of this franchise…and it would be a nice story should they win. But why does that mean they will win?
Like you, I had similar thoughts, but as I thought about all that I read, my mood shifted. Slowly at first, but then like a wave crashing over me I felt confident. I was excited for 8:00 p.m. and the drop of the puck. Hope and confidence overwhelmed me, because as I glanced back over that long list of Stanley Cup prerequisites, I noticed the Pens can check every box.
What don’t these Pens have?
The Penguins have leadership all over this roster.
Obviously the leadership that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin bring can’t be overstated. Matt Cullen’s presence has also been a calming one for the team — and an energizing one for him. Even Chris Kuntiz has become a gritty playoff performer who has already shown his importance to this team. On the defensive side, you have Kris Letang, who after learning a bit of self-control has finally seemed to put it altogether. Trevor Daley’s presence was huge in the first parts of these playoffs, although I doubt we will see him on the ice again this season. That would seem like enough leadership for most Cup runs, and yet I am leaving out the two most important leaders on this team. Two leaders who, if things go as planned, will not touch the ice this entire series.
Both Pascal Dupuis and Marc Andre Fleury are showing true veteran leadership with their actions. Dupuis is the biggest cheerleader for the team. He is sharpening skates and taping sticks for the guys — literally doing everything he can to support the team he loves. You have to think the Pens get an extra jump in their step when they see him before games and in-between periods. Dupuis is playing a huge leadership role with these penguins.
Fleury had the potential to derail the Penguins playoffs push. I’ll argue that how he chose to act when he continued to be passed up for the goalie of the future, Matt Murray, allowed these Pens the opportunity to succeed. This is (was) the Penguins franchise goaltender that is literally seeing his job taken away from him game by game. This was always going to happen, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Fleury singlehandedly kept this team afloat in the first half of this season yet; sadly we may be seeing the last games of him in a Penguins jersey. The glow of Murray is strong, but we can’t forget what MAF did for this team, and what he continues to do everyday. He is always the best teammate he can be, willing to do what’s best for the team even if it’s not the best thing for him, and his actions aren’t going unnoticed.
Four Solid Lines:
This may be Mike Sullivan’s calling card so far. He plays four lines with regularity. He wants to grind shift after shift. There seems to be a repeat in the 2009 formula of having three elite lines centered by real talent that make the group better than just the sum of the parts. Our fourth line center isn’t so bad either.
Just look at the Game 1 lineup in Stanley cup Finals…
To me that looks pretty solid, if not downright scary. The thanks should go to GM Jim Rutherford and Sullivan. The weaving of young speed, grit, veteran presence, and a great system has created a formidable lineup.
Everyone knows that the Penguins are one of the fastest (if not the fastest) team in the league. With names like Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, you know this team can fly. If the Sharks don’t have several defensive pairings to consistently match up with that speed they are going to have trouble beating the Penguins, especially in a seven-game series. The players have a lot to do with it, but again… a lot of the credit should go to Rutherford for bringing in that speed, and Sullivan, for playing a system that utilizes it. One thing is certain: we’ll see if the Sharks D is really as good as they say it is, and I’ll be watching to how it stands up to the Pens’ attack throughout the series.
The Penguins don’t have one of the top defenses in the league, but I do think they have been playing exceptionally well of late. The loss of Trevor Daley hurts, but I’ve been very pleased with what I have seen from Olli Maatta since coming off the bench, and honestly when you have a player of his skill level available as your seventh defenseman, you have a pretty deep blue line.
Along with the solid defense I also think, and this is weird to write, the Pens actually have a more reliable playoff goaltender than the Sharks. Statistics do support that statement at the time I am writing this. Both goalies are a bit of an unknown and are going to have a lot to prove. Although I do think that goaltending has the potential to be the Penguins biggest advantage in the series.
First thing’s first, I don’t even think the sharks would argue with you. The Penguins’ PK is better than the Sharks’. Whether you’re looking at stats in the playoffs or going by the eye test…the Pens have been better.
With that out of the way, the Sharks PP has looked better than the Pens’ so far. However, anytime you have the ability to have Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, and Letang on the ice at the same time — call it hometown pride, call it common sense — that line gets my support in seven games.
We haven’t even mentioned the near perfect coaching by Sullivan we’ve seen so far in these playoffs, the never say die attitude of this team, the home ice advantage, or the fact that the Pens not only have the star power advantage but also has its young players making huge contributions at the perfect time.
As I sit here waiting for the puck to drop…I’ll ask you again… What don’t these Pens have?
And don’t even try the beard argument…the Penguins have Nick Bonino.