Pittsburgh Penguins: End of Season Team Awards

WoooooSenior Writer IApril 5, 2008

The Pittsburgh Penguins played their final home game of the regular season at Mellon Arena on Wednesday night.  The Pens beat the Flyers 4-2, then thanked their fans by giving them the "shirts off our backs" after the game.  Before the game, the Penguins individual team awards were given out.  In this article, I would like to give out some awards, from a different perspective, that of the fans.  These aren't your typical awards (though some will overlap), but rather, some things that stuck out during the course of the season.

Most Memorable Moment: Jan. 1, 2008- The Winter Classic. Sidney Crosby's goal in the final round of the shootout gave the Pens a huge win over the Buffalo Sabres.  The game had been the biggest spectacle in the history of the league.  Over 70,000 fans packed Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, and it seemed fitting that the game rested in the hands of the NHL's newest superstar.  Crosby beat Ryan Miller, five-hole, in the shootout to give the Pens the victory in front of a largely Sabre fan-filled crowd. (Honorable Mention: Jan. 3, 2008- Evgeni Malkin's first NHL hat trick)

Biggest Surprise: Offense: Tyler Kennedy. Defense: Ty Conklin. Before this season, the name "Ty Conklin" sounded like someone your dad went to high school with.  Most Penguins fans had never heard of him before.  To our amazement, with the injury to #1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Conklin emerged as the team's new #1 man between the pipes, posting an 18-8-5 record, a GAA of 2.51 and a league second-best SV% of .923.  Conklin led the Penguins to an 8-game winning streak from late December through early January.  Tyler Kennedy was called up from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL) Penguins and has played 55 games with the big club.  Kennedy made himself a staple in the lineup, scoring some clutch goals from his hot-spot at the top of the off-wing circle.  Kennedy has recorded 10 goals and 9 assists for the Pens so far this year.  With the return of forwards Adam Hall and Gary Roberts from injuries, Kennedy will most likely be the odd-man-out for the Pens in the playoffs, but he has established himself as a great energy player who can score some big goals. (Honorable Mention: Offense- Max Talbot posted career highs in goals {12} and points {26}, all while missing 20 games due to injury.  Defense- Kris Letang.)

Biggest Disappointment: Jordan Staal's offensive production.  After scoring 29 goals in his rookie season, Jordan Staal experienced a sophomore slump this season.  Staal has played in every game for the Pens this year, scoring just 12 goals and recording 28 points.  On a positive note, Staal's defensive game improved ten-fold from his rookie campaign.  He has become a top four penalty killer on the team, and has played much more physical in front of the net. (Honorable Mention: Darryl Sydor. Sydor was signed as a free agent during the off-season, and his billing suggested that he was an offensive defenseman.  Sydor has posted 1 goal and 13 points this season.)

Sweetest Victory: November 22, 2007 vs. Ottawa Senators.  On Thanksgiving night, the Pens came from behind twice before Jarkko Ruutu scored the game-winner in the shootout as the Pens beat the Sens 6-5.  This game proved to be a turning point in the season, and gave the fans, and the rest of the league, a glimpse of the resiliency that this young club would display throughout the remainder of the regular season. (Honorable Mention: April 2, 2008- The Penguins beat the Flyers to clinch their first division title in 10 years.)

Biggest Individual Accomplishment: Evgeni Malkin's 47 goals, 106 points.  When Sidney Crosby went down with an injury, there were few "experts" who thought the Pens could stay above water without their captain.  Evgeni Malkin proved everyone wrong.  Malkin set the pace for the Pens in every offensive category, and will likely finish the season second to only Alexander Ovechkin in points, and third (behind Ovechkin and Iginla) in goals.  Malkin solidified himself as a true superstar in the NHL, and left little doubt as to whether he could produce without Sidney Crosby.  (Honorable Mention: Ryan Malone's career high 27 goals.)

Most Improved Player: Offense- Ryan Malone. Defense- Rob Scuderi.  Ryan Malone finally became the power forward that everyone knew he could be.  Malone posted career-highs in goals (27) and +/- (+15).  Malone's performance this season has led to him becoming one of the team's alternate captain's.  Playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora, Malone has blossomed into one of the top power forwards in the league.  Defenseman Rob Scuderi was questionable, to say the least, at times last season.  Repeatedly, Scuderi was out of position in front of the net, and sloppy with the puck in his own zone.  Scuderi erased all doubts this season.  Scuderi elevated his game, becoming a staple on the PK, and eventually landing him a spot on the teams' top defensive pairing, alongside Sergei Gonchar.  (Honorable Mention: Offense- Maxime Talbot set career highs in goals and points.  Defense- Brooks Orpik is #2 in the NHL in hits, responding to the challenge from head coach Michel Therrien to elevate his defensive game.)

Most Impressive Feat: 54-game sellout streak.  The Penguins have sold out each of their previous 54 consecutive home regular season games, and all 41 home games this season.  This is a true testament to the fans of a team that was unsure if it would remain in Pittsburgh for 2/3 of last season.  The 41 games sold out this season marked the first time since 1967 that the Pens sold out every home game.  (Honorable Mention: Evgeni Malkin #2 in the league in scoring, #3 in goals.)

Most Entertaining Player to Watch: Jarkko Ruutu.  Ruutu's antics as the Penguins agitator on the ice continued to put a smile on the face of all Penguin fans this season.  Whether it was taunting the opposition's bench, or dazzling the crowd with his patented forehand/backhand deke in the shootout, Ruutu has found a place in the hearts of all Pens fans.  (Honorable Mention: Gary Roberts.  While Roberts has only played in 37 games this season, his physical presence on the ice at the age of 41 continues to astonish fans, and his dedication and work ethic off the ice is one to be marveled by all.)

Team MVP: Evgeni Malkin.  It has been said so much over the course of the season, but Malkin has earned every praise-filled comment that he receives.  Geno carried this team on his back, playing in every game heading into this Sunday's matchup with the Flyers.  Malkin was selected to his first of many NHL All-Star games, will most likely finish 2nd in the league in points and 3rd in goals, leads the team in every offensive category, and has the 2nd highest shooting percentage on the team.  This was Malkin's breakout season, and one that solidified him as one of the best players in the world.  (Honorable Mention: Petr Sykora.  Syko has scored 28 goals (15 on the PP) and recorded 63 points playing alongside Malkin this year.  Sykora has showed that he can put the puck in the net, but he has also learned to play along the wall, backcheck, and show some physicality in his own zone, all of which are key ingredients in the Penguins system.)