How Strong Are the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Pat SullivanCorrespondent IMay 5, 2008

The Pittsburgh Penguins will face off with the Philadelphia Flyers in an all-Pennsylvania Eastern Conference Final.  But don't be fooled.  They're not contenders.

The Penguins appear to have all the ingredients to win the Stanley Cup.

They possess a superstar captain in Sidney Crosby, top goal scorers in both Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa, a cornerstone defenseman in Sergei Gonchar, and a stable goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury.

This lineup seems destined to win the Cup, but are the Penguins really that good?

Pittsburgh went untested in the first round, sweeping a decrepit Ottawa Senators team. In the second round, they eased by the New York Rangers in five games. Neither team tested Fleury.  Malkin was able to dangle around the lackluster defense.

Philadelphia is not a willing opponent. Despite shining in the first two rounds, Flyers goaltender Martin Biron is still unproven.

The Penguins will have no trouble shutting down Daniel Briere and R.J. Umberger.  The Pens' explosive offense will destroy Philadelphia's sketchy defense.

The Eastern Conference will be a breeze for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  But don't expect the same result in the Stanley Cup Final, where they will face either the Dallas Stars or the Detroit Red Wings.

Don't let the media fool you.  The Penguins are not as brilliant as they appear. Many media outlets have duped fans into believing the Pens are contenders.

Yes, they have many attractive talented players, namely Sidney Crosby and the mysterious Russian, Evgeni Malkin.  But outside of these strapping young bucks, the Pens are a mediocre team.

They play in the soft Eastern Conference, where hitting takes a backseat to slick moves, and offense is key. Teams with one quality line dominate the play. This is what the NHL and its fans want to see.

The identifiable players are succeeding, and the game possesses a high tempo. This is why the Penguins get the most nationally televised games of all the NHL teams.

The Western Conference is a different story. A balanced defense propels teams like Anaheim and Detroit. The impenetrable defense of many Western Conference teams slows the play and makes for a traditional, slower game.

Naturally, fans are turned off by the conservative game, but such conservatism wins championships.

The Penguins lack defensive depth, and this will be fatal once their top line is shutdown. The West prides itself in shutdown players that are invisible on the score sheet but can't be missed on the ice.

Players without post-game media scrums will destroy Crosby's Cup dreams.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, with their high scoring methods and marketable players, will garner much attention.  But they will ultimately fall in the Stanley Cup Finals to a Western Conference team with a good defense and ugly players.