The question is out there, “Can the Penguins be the first team to repeat since the 97/98 Red Wings?”. That answer is simple, it’s an absolute YES!
But in recent news, Kris Letang will miss all of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in yesterday’s warmups Matt Murray tweaked something and may be out as well. So now the question is, “Can the Penguins do it without those players?” Once again, the answer is simple, absolutely! But there will have to be a few key factors that come into play in order to do so. Here is what the Pens will need to happen, in order to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. I guarantee one of these might surprise you.
- The oldest cliché in playoff hockey is, your best players have to be your best players to go far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Penguins are going to repeat, Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Shultz, Daley, Fleury/Murray must be on their game. These are the Penguins best players in their positions. If they are non-existent in games/series or a non-factor often, it will be an early exit for the Black and Gold. After game 1 these players had an excellent start at being the players they need to be. While Crosby didn’t register a point in the game, he created numerous chances and was definitely a challenge to defend for the Blue Jackets. Malkin looked rested and like he hasn’t missed a beat, while Fleury stole the show. If Fleury continues to start, expect much of the same from him. As for Phil Kessel, he’s clearly a gamer and takes pride in rising to the occasion.
- The Carl Hagelin factor. The Swedish speedster is currently recovering from a concussion earlier in the season, but could return soon. While Hagelin has never scored more than 17 goals in a season, last year he put up 16 points in 27 playoff games. But it is not scoring prowess that makes Hagelin an important part of a successful Penguins playoff team. Hagelin’s biggest asset is his speed. The speedster is amongst the top 5 fastest players in the NHL without a doubt. While I believe, the Pens can get through the first round without him, the next three rounds will be tough without him. Speed is the identity of the Penguins and Hagelin has that in spades. The Swede’s speed forces defenders back on the rush, it forces players to make quicker and unwarranted decisions with the puck, and it creates space for his teammates. These factors will be highly important in later rounds as the teams get tougher. The turnovers that Hagelin creates plays directly into the puck possession game that is the Penguins identity. Can the Pens make it without him? Absolutely, but Hags will make it easier for sure.
- Just play! Coach Mike Sullivan’s message to the team since his hiring has been has been “Just play”. No matter what happens, no matter who’s in the lineup, no matter the refs, no matter what building/city they are in, just play the game hard and never give up. Not only has this been the message from the coaching staff but always been the message from captains Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins Two-Head Monster always play hard and are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the team. That type of leadership has a trickledown effect though out the team. And in during this season the team has had its fair share of adversities. Players injured, goaltending controversy, minor league players playing bigger roles, and they’ve dealt with them all by just playing. It’s hard to find any team in the league that deals with challenges and adversity the way the Penguins organization does. It’s near impossible to find another team in the NHL that is as resilient as the Penguins are in game time situations as well. The Pens just play and to successfully repeat, they will have to continue to abide by that mantra.
- A little puck luck. No team has won the Stanley Cup ever, without a little luck. Anyone who’s name is etched on the fable chalice will tell you the same. Some days the puck just isn’t bouncing in your favor, but the one fortuitous bounce can change a game or series. In recent memory of Pens cup runs, Max Talbot gets beat up and shushes the crowd, Marc-Andre Fleury double pushed across instead of one big push, Crosby calls a play and Letang makes it work just to name a few. Sometimes the hockey Gods will just have to shine down upon the team when things normally wouldn’t work or go right. If the Penguins get a few of these moments, good things will happen.
The threat down the middle for the reigning champs + two number one goaltenders + all kinds of secondary scoring capabilities + defense by committee + speed + resiliency = a recipe to repeat for the Pittsburgh Penguins. No team in the modern era has been kept the majority of its cup winning team together the following season. The Pens have and that will be dangerous for their opponents. If anyone can repeat, the Penguins can.
Good Talk… See ya out there!
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