Pittsburgh Penguins' Defense and 10 NHLers Who Must Step Up in 1st Round

Jacob Betzner@@JacobBetznerCorrespondent IIApril 18, 2012

Pittsburgh Penguins' Defense and 10 NHLers Who Must Step Up in 1st Round

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    Analysts picked the Pittsburgh Penguins as a favorite to win the 2012 Stanley Cup.  Then the team's first-round series against the hated rival Philadelphia Flyers commenced.

    Three games and 20 goals against later, the Penguins' run for the Cup looks to be virtually over. (Update: A 10-3 goalfest in Game 4 on Wednesday night has Pittsburgh hanging on with a 3-1 series deficit.)

    The Flyers out-hustled, out-worked and out-played the Penguins in all but the first periods of Games 1 and 2.

    The relentless Flyers offense beat Pittsburgh's defenders to loose pucks, found open ice to shoot and scored more goals shorthanded than the Penguins scored on the power play.

    Only one Pittsburgh defenseman mustered a positive plus/minus rating through the first three games, and two defenders accounted for a total of three points from the blue line.

    The utter collapse of the Penguins' blue-liners and overall team defense allowed the Flyers to rally from a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 and a 3-1 deficit in Game 2 and win Game 3 by a convincing score of 8-4.

    The six members of the Penguins' defeat are the single reason for Pittsburgh's downfall, but too many glaring mistakes by the blue-liners have made them the scapegoat of the series.

    If there is any chance of the Penguins doing the near-impossible and rallying from a 3-0 series deficit, the defense has to shut down the Flyers' well-oiled attack.

    In addition to the Penguins' defense, several other players on all 16 playoff teams need to contribute more to if they want to lift Lord Stanley's Cup in June. Let's take a look at 10 of them.

David Booth (Vancouver Canucks)

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    Few expected the Los Angeles Kings to dominate the Vancouver Canucks in the teams' opening series.

    A red-hot Jonathon Quick won Games 1, 2 and 3 for Los Angeles, stopping over 96 percent of the shots fired his way.

    A goal scorer absolutely needs to step up for the Canucks.

    David Booth is a legitimate 20-plus goal scorer when healthy. 

    While he has no playoff experience, he has the ability to play a bigger role on a Daniel Sedin-less Canucks team.  Head coach Alain Vigneault has given the 27-year-old the chance to play with play-making specialist Henrik Sedin, but the two haven't developed a substantial amount of chemistry yet.

    Climbing out of a 3-0 hole to win the series will be nearly impossible for the defending Western Conference Champions, but with more goal scoring the Canucks stand a chance.

David Perron (St. Louis Blues)

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    Patrik Berglund rose to the occasion this post-season by scoring three goals and one assist through the first three games of the Blues opening-round series against the Sharks.

    David Perron, who scored two more regular season goals than Berglund despite playing in 25 fewer regular season games, has not yet found his stride in this years' playoffs.

    Perron is a minus-one with zero points through the first three games of the series.

    At only 23 years old, Perron may just need some time to adjust to the demands of the NHL post-season, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later for the low-scoring Blues.

Ray Whitney (Phoenix Coyotes)

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    After an extremely productive season, Whitney has been rather insignificant in the playoffs.

    He scored a goal last night, but the Coyotes are relying heavily on the former all-star and Stanley Cup Champion to take a leadership role on the relatively inexperienced playoff team.  Whitney has to realize this might be his last shot at another Cup and should play accordingly.

    Once Whitney starts leading on the ice in addition to on the ice, the Coyotes become a threat to upset some teams in the West.

Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)

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    Malkin won the Art Ross trophy by accumulating 50 goals and 109 points in 75 regular season games.

    In the post-season, he has two assists in three games and is a lousy minus-5.  No player on the Penguins is playing exceptionally well right now, but Malkin, now a two-time Art Ross winner and a former Conn Smythe trophy recipient, has much higher expectations.

    Besides picking up team defensive play and Marc-Andre Fleury screwing his head back on straight, the Penguins need Malkin to step up, much like he did this season, and start producing more offense.

    Malkin is needed even more with the recent announcement of a one-game suspension for line mate James Neal.  Neal scored twice in Game 3 and scored 40 regular season goals.  Malkin has the ability, he just needs to get it going and stay out of the nonsense.

Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia Flyers)

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    Bryzgalov has been fairly inconsistent for the Flyers this post-season.  Though making some highlight reel saves and having a flawless record through the first three games of his team's opening-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bryzgalov still has some holes in his game that may be a big factor in coming rounds.

    It's surprising the 31-year-od netminder owns a 3-0 record with a .868 save percentage and a 3.96 goals against average, second to last among goaltenders this post-season only to his opposition, Marc-Andre Fleury.

    The Flyers have proven they can score, but it's against an abysmal Penguins' defense.  If Philly meets a team like Boston or the Rangers in a later round, Bryzgalov's inconsistency might be the team's downfall.

Brad Stuart (Detroit Red Wings)

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    Stuart is playing some pretty poor defense for the Red Wings.

    A relatively sound two-way defenseman, Stuart is not getting it done at either end for Detroit.  While the Red Wings can stand minimal offensive production from the 32-year-old veteran, his play in his own end needs to improve if the Red Wings have any chance of clawing back from a 3-1 deficit against the Nashville Predators.

    Stuart is a minus-five so far in the series.  He does, however, have an assist and has not taken any penalties.

Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)

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    Marty Brodeur isn't the same goaltender who won Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003.  He also doesn't have the same defense in front of him from Jersey's Cup winning days.  Regardless, he is the winningest goaltender in NHL history and knows how to get it done in the playoffs.

    After a strong performance in Game against the Florida Panthers, Brodeur surrendered four goals in a Game 2 loss and 4 goals before being pulled in favor of Johan Hedberg in a Game 3 loss.

    The Devils are doing okay in the scoring department, though there is always room for more offense, but the team's success this post-season depends heavily on Brodeur's play.  If he can eek out one more year of spectacular goaltending, the Devils might be able to make it through this first round and possibly advance even farther.

Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks)

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    Hossa has gone scoreless through two games in his opening round series against the Phoenix Coyotes, despite seeing ice time with top-players like Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews.

    Hossa is a plus-three, taking care of business in the defensive end, but the Hawks need the 33-year-old to start scoring.  With another scoring threat, Chicago could walk away with this series, despite the spectacular play of Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith.

    Three shy of 100 career post-season points, if Hossa picks up his offensive game, the Hawks have the ability to upset some teams in the ensuing rounds.

    His status remains uncertain after being taken off the ice on a stretcher last night.  If he can return and play the Hawks need him to contribute more offensively.

Patrick Marleau (San José Sharks)

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    Marleau has played in over 120 NHL playoff games.  He's scored 52 playoff goals and recorded 88 points.

    In three games with the Sharks this post-season, Marleau hasn't contributed a single point.  The 14-year veteran is plus-1 in his team's opening series against the Blues, but flat-out needs to contribute more offensively.

    The Sharks are now down 2-1 in the series, and need a player, especially a veteran player like Marleau with so much experience, to start creating more offense if they have any chance of beating Brian Elliott and the defensively-sound St. Louis Blues and advancing to the next round.

Dennis Wideman (Washington Capitals)

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    The Capitals haven't run into any lethal scorers yet, but if they can make it past the first round, Dennis Wideman needs to elevate his defensive play for Washington.

    In three games this post-season, Wideman has zero points and is a a minus-four in the Capitals opening-round series against the Boston Bruins.  Wideman isn't necessarily known for being a shutdown d-man, but a minus-four in a series where his team has only given up only six goals is unacceptable.

    The Capitals are down 2-1 after three games, but could still upset the Bruins, especially if Wideman and the defense help lessen surprising goaltender Brayden Holtby's heavy workload.