Pittsburgh Penguins: 5 Signs This Will Be a Stanley Cup Season
Despite a bleak outlook a couple months ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins are charging and have their sights firmly set on another Stanley Cup.
With their star prodigy Sidney Crosby sidelined with concussion-like symptoms for most of the season, Sid the Kid returned to the Pens lineup as if he had never missed a game.
Crosby will be key to the Pens' success moving forward, and he will help take the load off of Evgeni Malkin, who is playing the best hockey of his career and proving he is a true star in this league.
Behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and a high-powered offense, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL right now. Here are five reasons why the Penguins have the look of a team poised to win its second Cup in the past five years.
5. Crosby Is Back and Looks Healthy
It's no secret that when Sidney Crosby steps onto the ice that the Pittsburgh Penguins instantly become better. Crosby brings an element to the team that nobody else can. Sid has a knack for finding the open man and also puts the puck in the back of the net as well as anyone in recent memory.
Now that Crosby is back and hopefully sustainably healthy, the Pens are fully equipped to make a run at Lord Stanley's Cup. If he is able to stay in the lineup, no team will want to see Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
4. Fleury Can Pick Up the Slack If the Offense Struggles
Pittsburgh is not a team that usually has trouble scoring goals, but every team has its off nights. However, luckily for the Penguins, they have Marc-Andre Fleury to lean on.
The Pens' netminder ranks ninth in the NHL in GAA at 2.24 and is tied with Nashville's Pekka Rinne for the league lead at 40 wins. Fleury's name is not usually mentioned amongst the league's top goalies, but some of the plays he makes are nothing short of remarkable.
Fleury is the type of goaltender that can win a team a Cup, and with their offense, it is a dangerous combination.
3. They Can't Lose Right Now
Pittsburgh has been undoubtedly the hottest team in the NHL right now. Over its last 16 games, the Pens are 14-1-1, including a 10-game win streak.
Behind a offense led Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, the Penguins have overtaken the NHL's scoring lead at 3.2 goals per game. The way the Penguins have played of late, it has seemed that no team can skate with them.
Crosby has made a seamless transition back into the lineup as he scored twice again in a 5-2 win over New Jersey on Sunday night. At this pace, the Penguins looks like they can take over first place from the Rangers and coast toward the Stanley Cup Final.
2. James Neal Has Joined Crosby and Malkin as Elite Scorers
James Neal, the 24-year-old left-winger, has enjoyed a breakout year in this his first full season with the Pens. Acquired from Dallas in the middle of last season, Neal has tallied 35 goals and 41 assists this year and has opened the eyes of many with his exemplary play.
Everyone knew that the Pens had two of the best scorers in the league in Malkin and Crosby, but Neal has joined the club. His name still gets left out of the conversation with the others, but that won't last long if he keeps up this level of play.
1. Evgeni Malkin Is Finally Playing Like a Hart Trophy Winner
The former second-overall pick in 2004, Evgeni Malkin has shown flashes of brilliance in his seven years in the NHL, but has been known to disappear at times as well. This season has not been one of those times.
With the absence of star Sidney Crosby, there was massive questioning as to whether or not Evgeni Malkin could step in and take over the lead role. He has answered those questions by scoring 45 goals and tallying 50 assists in 67 games so far this season.
Malkin has had the tools all along and it seems as though he finally pieced it all together. The clear favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player, Evgeni Malkin has been the most dominant player on the ice in every game he's played. Malkin's play, coupled with that of his counterparts, will have the Pens playing deep into the playoffs.