NHL Playoffs 2012: Pittsburgh Penguins' Playoff Primer
The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth straight season, having captured the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference for the fourth year in a row. On Wednesday night, they will kick off their conference quarterfinals series by taking on the Philadelphia Flyers.
There is a lot of ground to cover before the puck drops on what is sure to be an intense, physical series.
Here is everything you need to know about the Flyers' intrastate rival.
Regular-Season Record and 1st-Round Schedule
The Penguins finished the 2011-12 season with a record of 51-26-5 with 108 points, good for second in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Their first-round series against the Flyers will go down as follows (all times EST):
Game 1: Wednesday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. (Consol Energy Center)
Game 2: Friday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m. (Consol Energy Center)
Game 3: Sunday, April 15, at 3 p.m. (Wells Fargo Center)
Game 4: Wednesday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. (Wells Fargo Center)
*Game 5: Friday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. (Consol Energy Center)
*Game 6: Sunday, April 22, time TBD (Wells Fargo Center)
*Game 7: Tuesday, April 24, time TBD (Consol Energy Center)
*denotes if necessary
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The Penguins offense is ranked first in the NHL with 3.33 goals scored per game. The unit is led by Evgeni Malkin, who finished first in the league with 109 points and second with 50 goals. James Neal is having a career year of his own, ranking fourth in the NHL with 40 goals and seventh with 81 points.
Meanwhile, Pascal Dupuis had a career year with 25 goals and 59 points, while Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal also hit the 20-goal mark. Staal had 50 points this season, a new career best.
Sidney Crosby will return to playoff action for the first time since 2010. Despite playing just 22 games this year, he still posted 37 points, good for an average of 1.68 points per game. He has 82 points in 62 playoff games, and in 2010, he had 19 points in 13 postseason contests.
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Kris Letang leads all Penguins defensemen with 42 points in 51 games, missing several games on separate occasions due to a concussion and a lower-body injury. The 2011-12 season marked the second 40-point campaign of his career, as he had 50 points in 2010-11.
Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek are two of the Pens' most experienced defensemen. Martin had 27 points this season, an improvement from the 24 points he had in 2011, his first year in Pittsburgh. He also has 18 points in 49 playoff games with the New Jersey Devils and the Penguins.
Michalek was first on the Penguins with 144 blocked shots, but his point production dropped this year. After having 19 points in 2011, he finished this season with 13 points in 62 games.
However, the defense is more known for its physical edge. Brooks Orpik is first on the team with 259 hits and second with 139 blocked shots, while Deryk Engelland is third with 174 hits. This postseason run marks Engelland's Stanley Cup playoff debut.
Pittsburgh's defense is 15th in the NHL with 2.66 goals surrendered per game.
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Marc-Andre Fleury previously guided the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title in 2009, and has started to develop into the goalie the Penguins wanted him to be when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.
In 2011-12, he posted his second 40-win season with a record of 42-17-4 with three shutouts while averaging a .913 save percentage and 2.36 GAA. He was second in the league in wins.
Fleury's playoff record is 41-28 with five shutouts to go with a .910 save percentage and 2.52 GAA.
If Fleury gets injured or is otherwise unable to play at any point in the playoffs, the Penguins will turn to veteran backup Brent Johnson. Johnson is in his third season in Pittsburgh, but his play dropped off this year due to an injury. He finished the year with a record of 6-7-2 with a .883 save percentage and 3.11 GAA in 16 games.
In 14 postseason games, Johnson has a record of 5-6 with three shutouts, as well as a .918 save percentage and 2.09 GAA.
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The Penguins' power play is fifth in the NHL with a 19.7 percent success rate. In his career season, James Neal leads Pittsburgh and the league with 18 power-play goals.
Evgeni Malkin, who is second on the Pens and eighth in the NHL with 12 power-play goals, gets the most amount of ice time on the man advantage (4:21 per game). Kris Letang is second with 4:05 of ice time on the power play.
The penalty kill is third in the league with an 87.8 percent success rate.
Pascal Dupuis and Jordan Staal are tied for the team lead with three short-handed goals, and Matt Cooke is in second place with two. Defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik are the top ice-time getters on the penalty kill, with 3:38 and 3:20 of ice time per game, respectively.
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Pittsburgh is led by Dan Bylsma, who took the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final upon taking over as interim coach in 2009. There, the Penguins won their third title after a rematch with the Detroit Red Wings.
In the years since, Bylsma has guided the Penguins to the playoffs and shaped them into a force to be reckoned with.
Last season, he took home the Jack Adams Trophy as the Penguins finished fourth in the Eastern Conference despite spending much of the season without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh's record in 2011-12 was 49-25-8 for 106 points.
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Pittsburgh brings plenty of playoff experience to the 2012 postseason, as it has many players from their 2009 Stanley Cup team still intact. Its core group of players has grown together and developed into some of the league's most elite talents.
Furthermore, this team knows how to withstand adversity and bring good results out of it. It responded to accusations that it wanted Sidney Crosby to no longer be its captain by taping the "C" to its practice jerseys. It's played large amounts of time without star players and continued to win games, an obstacle that could bring down other teams.
The Penguins also deal with members of the media and other coaches making remarks about favoritism and their style of play, using it for motivation and responding with a great deal of class, while choosing not to fuel the fire anymore than necessary.
The Penguins also have players who are willing to stick up for their teammates, as even the guys who really can't fight that well (sorry, Craig Adams) are never afraid to drop the gloves. This sense of team unity can help a team overcome statistical weaknesses and make a strong Cup run.
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The Penguins are deep on nearly every level. They have two star players in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, while players such as Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis provide even more scoring depth. Even fourth-line players such as Arron Asham can contribute points, ensuring that no one player has to carry the team by themselves.
Kris Letang provides a scoring presence on the blue line, but also handles his defensive responsibilities with a sense of maturity. The rest of the team's blueliners have the presence necessary to wear down the Flyers and any other opponent, and Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland are two of the NHL's most intimidating presences on defense.
Pittsburgh should make a long playoff run.
However, it will be in trouble if Marc-Andre Fleury gets injured. Brent Johnson has not gotten enough postseason time with the Penguins, and goaltender Brad Thiessen would in no way be ready to handle the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Look for the Penguins to use their experience in goal to get past the Flyers. It is hard to say where they will go after, however, as this should be a physical series that will wear them out as they await their next opponent.