2010 NHL Playoffs: Pittsburgh Penguins' Top Five Performers
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 2009-2010 season has been one centered around resilience and answering the call of being "the targeted ones" as defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Fighting for Lord Stanley isn't the same as it used to be; now it's much more difficult to find repeat winners because of the evolution of the game and players who lace up every night.
But despite the pressures on this still very young team, the Pens have managed to put together another solid roster full of players who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the possibility of a repeat.
I have put together the top five playoff performers on the Penguins (thus far), based on statistics and overall play that has made a positive impact on the team.
5. Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang
Because defense has been the Pens' biggest issue in the playoffs, I give fifth place to Brooks Orpik, representing the defensive defensemen, and Kris Letang, representing the offensive defensemen.
However, I wouldn't peg these two as weak players in the slightest.
Orpik has been a force on the Pens' blue line, leading the NHL in hits (40) and leading the team in blocked shots (22).
He is easily one of the Pens' most physical players, and what makes him more valuable is that this physicality is very responsible and not fueled by any kind of emotion other than the desire to do his job well.
A physical presence has been a big necessity on the Pens' blue line in both series against the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, teams who have made it a habit of getting deep in the zone and forcing the Pens to play in the corners.
A big hit from Orpik is definitely something that makes opposing players think twice before trying any funny business in the Pens' end.
Countering the physical brutality of Orpik is Letang, the young defenseman, who has the most fluid skating abilities on the team and takes advantage of them when transitioning from defense to offense.
Letang previously had issues getting pucks to the net, let alone scoring goals, but he has found his scoring touch in the playoffs by netting three goals. One of these goals was a game-winner.
Every time Letang comes on the ice, he seems to have the same mindset no matter what the score: be sound defensively and then add to the offense when necessary.
He has done just that this playoff season.
Whether it was a poke check in front of the net, or a sprint up the ice when given space, Letang has really improved on all aspects of his game, making him a dangerous player when he does and doesn't have the puck.
I would even argue Letang has been the Pens' best defenseman on both sides of the ice.
4. Chris Kunitz
Just call him the human catapult, launching himself into anything that isn't black and Vegas gold.
Chris Kunitz is a remarkable player who never gets the recognition for what he does.
And what exactly does he do?
Think of him as an agitator with good hands, speed, and tenacity in his "office", also known as the boards.
As I write this, Kunitz has three goals and nine points, behind only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
But what makes Kunitz stand out in these playoffs is how he never shies away from scraps along the boards and corners.
In fact, he lives and shines in those areas.
Players like Kunitz are what fuel Head Coach Dan Bylsma's aggressive puck-possession system that defines the Penguins.
Players that follow the puck after a dump in and ensure that the puck ends up on a Penguin stick, doing whatever it takes.
Kunitz truly does whatever it takes and he's one of the feistiest players on the Pens' forecheck, game in and game out. Usually it comes in the form of a huge hit along the boards that either knocks a player off the puck or simply knocks a player over.
Either way, Kunitz has been very important in the Pens' offense since his acquisition last spring at the trade deadline. Players hate to play against him because of his straight-line style he owns when he hits the ice.
Without Kunitz, Bylsma's system flops and it's that system that brought home the Stanley Cup last season.
3. Craig Adams
The man who hadn't scored a regular season goal since December 1, 2008...a whopping 111 games.
But not this playoff season.
Craig Adams has two goals, one of them a game-winner, but that's not even the reason why he's made this list.
While Adams doesn't frequently contribute statistically, he brings many intangibles every single game such as solid defensive-minded play and long penalty kill minutes, all with a very physical presence.
Adams is also a major role player on the team. Before the third period in Game Six against the Senators, Adams spoke up to a Penguins team who was down 3-1 and playing with minimal effort.
The final result of the game was a 4-3 overtime win and many players contribute the win to Adams' leadership that was on display in the dressing room before the third period.
The fact that he was one of the players to take the last shift against Detroit in Game Seven of last year's Stanley Cup Final also speaks volumes.
While Adams may not be a player that can fire a one-timer from the hash marks, he is a responsible player that uses his physicality to dictate his (and the Penguins') game which helps carry the play when star players aren't on the ice.
I never want to see him wear a uniform that doesn't have Pittsburgh's logo on the front.
2. Pascal Dupuis
Coming off a fabulous season, I expected nothing less from Pascal Dupuis as he entered the postseason.
While his scoring prowess seemed to cool in the playoffs (although you can hardly speak poorly of the overtime game-winner that ended the Senator's season), Dupuis' speed and strong defensive style has appeared in every single game.
Dupuis has been doing it all this season and postseason, but on a small scale. In one shift, you'll see him speed by a defenseman and then in another shift, you'll see him disrupting play in the Pens' zone by also using his speed.
While his seven points in the playoffs don't speak too highly of his offense, his plus/minus of +7 (behind only Sidney Crosby) speaks more of his contributions.
He's always at the right place at the right time making the simple but good play. His assist on Adams' goal in Game One against Montreal is proof of that.
It also explains his position as a penalty killer.
Dupuis may not have always had this much luck with the puck; in fact, he was often criticized for having soft hands.
However, he's certainly turned his game around and supplied the big goals for when the Pens needed them the most.
Even if he isn't contributing offensively, he is just as sound defensively, a rare combo to find nowadays.
1. Sidney Crosby
Maybe some are because Sidney Crosby was held off of the scoresheet for two consecutive games after registering two fabulous assists in Game One of Semi-Finals.
However, Crosby has proven in these playoffs that he doesn't need to show up on the scoresheet in order to show his worth on the ice.
That is exactly why he is the Penguins' most potent performer in these playoffs.
Crosby's stats only flaunt the positives: five goals and 17 points for first in the League, a 57.5 faceoff percentage, he leads the Pens offense in total ice time, and boasts a plus/minus of +7.
But it cannot be overlooked that Crosby stepped up in penalty kill time once Jordan Staal left the series with a lacerated tendon.
In doing this, Crosby has been able to flaunt his defensive smarts not only on the penalty kill, but even strength as well.
We all remember his superman save in Game Two against the Senators.
To cap it off, Crosby has also upped his physicality, something we don't often see from his game.
Overall, Crosby's shown the NHL that he can do it all in the biggest of ways. Of course, there are times like now where that just isn't happening, but Crosby's game is so polished that he finds a way to contribute to the team even if it means it won't show up in a statistical form.