2009 Stanley Cup Champions, sounds pretty good doesn’t it? The Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished a daunting task by merely returning to the Stanley Cup Finals in back to back years. The road back to Detroit wasn’t as easy as you would think. The Penguins suffered through several losing streaks, captain Sidney Crosby struggled with injury through the early part of the new year and head coach Michel Therrien was relieved of his coaching duties in mid-February and replaced with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.
The Penguins have their work cut out for them this season, not only are they the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but they’ve been compared to the Edmonton Oilers dynasty from the 1980s. The Penguins, because of their age and talent, are expected to return to the Finals and compete for another championship. Can the Penguins repeat? What will prevent them from bringing a fourth Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh?
5. Too much Stanley? – We hear about this every season and most teams in recent years have fallen victim to the dreaded hangover that comes with winning sports’ oldest trophy. The Penguins had a long season playing 82 games, plus an additional 24 games and a summer full of celebrating with family and friends. It is imperative for the Penguins to put their championship behind them and focus on the tasks of the new season. They’ve achieved what 29 other teams want; they will have a bull’s eye on them all season.
4. Will Bylsma be able to maintain success? – Dan Bylsma accomplished one of the greatest feats in history as a rookie head coach. The real test comes October 2nd when the Penguins host the New York Rangers and the 2009-2010 regular season get’s underway. Bylsma is an unusual situation with the amount of talent of the team. He must find line combinations that will utilize each player’s individual talents, but at the same time will help push the team towards a repeat performance from last year. Bylsma has a multi-year contract and must show that the Penguins made the right decision re-signing the former NHL players as their head coach.
3. Fleury – Fluke or Phenom? – Marc-Andre Fleury has had a tumultuous history in big games over his young career. The 2003 World Junior Championship is one moment that many perceived Fleury was not a “big game” goalie. During the gold medal game against Team USA, Fleury shot the puck in a clearing attempt. The attempt hit off of fellow Team Canada teammate Braydon Coburn and went into the net and gave Team USA a 4-3 lead and the gold medal.
Fleury once again received criticism during the 2008 playoffs when he fell coming out of the bench for game one against Detroit; Fleury’s stumble set a tone that the Penguins were nervous.
Fleury made a huge save with seconds remaining in the 2009 Finals that lead to their third Stanley Cup. Fleury stopped Nicklas Lidstrom on a rebound shot that sealed the 2-1 victory in game seven for the Penguins. Fleury will need to continue to prove that he is capable of making big saves and smart plays when needed.
2. Will the veterans be able to maintain their presence? – As young as the Penguins are they do have some aging veterans whose contributions will be closely watched as the season progresses. Sergei Gonchar, free-agent acquisitions Brent Johnson and Jay McKee all battled long-term injuries during the 2008-2009 season. Bill Guerin is one-year older and many will question if he can maintain playing a full season on Crosby’s right-wing. The Penguins are still searching for that scoring winger for Crosby. Chris Kunitz made an impression during the regular season, but the veteran acquired from the Anaheim Ducks last season, was invisible in the playoffs with a single goal. The core group in Pittsburgh is young, but the veterans will need to step and hope to remain healthy throughout the better part of the 2009-2010 season.
1. Will Lord Stanley Return? – The Penguins did it in 1991 and 1992 with Lemieux, Jagr and Barrasso. Can Crosby, Malkin and Fleury repeat what their predecessors did twenty years ago? It won’t be easy as it’s been said. But the talent and determination is there. The Penguins can’t let any distractions get in their way, the banners will be raised and the Cup will return to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is time for this group to set their eyes on another championship. They will face injuries, critics and the adversity that comes with the regular season. Many of these players will also represent their country at the Olympics, yet another distraction in the path of glory. It won’t be easy, but the Penguins have show that they’re still the cardiac kids and that they can compete with any team in the league.
See you in Detroit, for part three this spring.