The 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins did not seem like a championship team in December of 2015. On December 12th, 2015 the Penguins only had a record of 15-10-3. They were slow, and definitely not motivated at all. Head coach Mike Johnston was fired, and former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Mike Sullivan came into replace him. In Sullivan’s first four games that team didn’t win at all. Rookie goaltender Matt Murray was called up with a few of his young and swift AHL buddies. The team was beginning to form an identity. David Perron was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for speedy winger Carl Hagelin.
They started winning, and they didn’t seem to want to stop. Matt Murray was beginning to prove himself to one day be a permanent starter for an NHL team. Marc-Andre Fleury was in the midst his best season within recent memory. The Penguins used their speed and heart to beat opponents.
With the Presidents’ trophy leading Washington Capitals at the top of the division, the second spot was up for grabs. Within a month of the playoffs, the Penguins found themselves in a three way battle for a wildcard position in the east. After a few weeks passed, they found themselves comfortably sitting in second place in the Metropolitan division and had clinched the playoffs.
The rest is history. The Penguins won the first round four to one against the Rangers, defeated the Capitals, the NHL’s best team, in six games, and topped the young and skilled Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh game. The emergence of the Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel (HBK) line and the poise of rookie goaltender Matt Murray drove the Penguins to a six game rout of the San Jose Sharks.
Now, the past is the past and we are moving on to a new season. The question is, “Can we expect another slow start for the Penguins in 2016-17?” If we go by history, most likely not.
The Penguins didn’t pick up the pace last season until they found their identity as a speedy and persistent team. Now that they know this identity, they will just be picking up where the left off last season. Not many changes occurred in the offseason, other than the loss of backup/third goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, the Beau Bennett trade, and Ben Lovejoy signing elsewhere. Down to the core, the Penguins are still the same team that they were last year. They just need to play like they did.
The season after the 2009 Stanley Cup win, after 41 games the Penguins had 26-14-1 and were on a good pace. They finished second in the division and fourth in the eastern conference. Unfortunately, they made a second round exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
Again, this team is different. The team the Penguins have this year is special. They are the fastest team, they have the most heart. This team has an identity and is looking to keep going. Teams have tried to build similar to us, and others have tried to build to combat us. Can the Penguins answer the call? We can only wait and see. All Penguins fans should be excited for this year because the players are going to give us a good one. Expect big things from the Pittsburgh Penguins this year.