Pens' Youth Contribute to New Power in East

Zac HerrContributor IMay 7, 2009

Look at that picture. Now try to imagine that happening four years ago. Do you think a fan would be going crazy for a team that won a grand total of 22 games? Chances are, there wouldn't even be someone in that seat.

Four years ago, the Penguins won only 22 games in the whole season. Three years after the horrendous '05-'06 season, they reached the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to Detroit, 4-2.

How did they turn it around? How could a team so bad on all fronts become Stanley Cup contenders?

The simple answer is the youth movement.

They found a great leader in Sidney Crosby. His rookie season blew everyone away, and with good reason. He had 39 goals, 63 assists, and 102 points.

They also knew that Crosby would never remain in the league if he was required to maintain that production for his entire career. They got amazing production from veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar. He solidified a defense that allowed 316 goals in the '05-'06 season.

They gave Crosby another viable threat in the form of Evgeni Malkin, who really stepped up in Game 3 yesterday, I must add. His 47 goals last year were key to the Pens reaching the Finals last year.  Even though he disappeared in the Finals, he was a key factor in their success.

The final piece in the puzzle was that last line of defense in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Although he wasn't ready for the spotlight in 2003-2004, he has matured in the last 2 years. He has become a leader in the back and has stopped making so many amateur mistakes.  He is now a force to be reckoned with between the pipes when he feels like it.