This team dug themselves out of deeper holes in the past.
Things started to look up when Andrei Kostitsyn took a roughing penalty four minutes into the second period. While the power play wasn't very successful against the Canadiens, the Pens could always find a way to convert when they needed it, especially after tapping into a power play machine against the Ottawa Senators.
But things weren't clicking.
Just over a minute into the power play, Chris Kunitz dropped a sloppy pass back that was intercepted by penalty killer Travis Moen before it could reach Sergei Gonchar on the point.
The takeaway itself would have been harmless if Gonchar put a body or stick on Moen to disrupt the play.
Only he did neither.
Moen slipped right by him, getting a clear shot on net. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury may have been too stunned to make a save.
The goal was the exclamation point at the end of the Pens' season.
It was an astonishing moment for fans because this was the team that never gave up. However, their lack of fight was what was sending the team home from the playoffs.
Since the 2007-2008 playoffs, the Pens have been on an interesting journey that has taken them on opposite ends of the winning/losing spectrum. That was the first season the team made a run to the Stanley Cup Final since claiming the sacred chalice in 1992.
The Pens would come up short in their quest to win the Cup, but at the start of the 2008-2009 season, hopes were still high and the question of the season was, "How will the young Pens, so full of potential, bounce back after tasting such horrible defeat?"
The response was the season of dreams. A poor start forced a major team and coaching face lift that carried the Pens to the Stanley Cup Final where they turned the tables to take the Cup from the Detroit Red Wings.
With a new season upon them after yet another short summer, a new question came to mind: "How will the Pens respond with a target on their backs?"
The 2009-2010 season started with the Pens' best opening in franchise history, but inconsistency and injury plagued the team for the majority of the season. This was capped by an "early" exit from the playoffs in the second round.
While the loss to the Montreal Canadiens surprised many, I felt this was a good opportunity for the Pens to regroup and take a breather after two lengthy seasons. But now that they've had a break, healed their injuries, and mentally rid themselves of the poor showing in the playoffs, there are no more excuses.
The 2010-2011 season will ask the Pens one thing: "How will the they bounce after a poor finish to last season?"
All of the problems that closed the season fell into General Manager Ray Shero's hands to piece together a winning team.
As always, Shero didn't disappoint.
The loss of Sergei Gonchar to Ottawa was countered by the additions of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, two players who are not only talented but also took less money to play with the Pens. At this point, any legitimate complaints about the team's deficiencies begin and end with wingers.
The same wingers who, along with the Pens' infamous string of centers, helped the team place fifth in the NHL in goals scored. With Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky getting the boot, room was made to be filled with some young (or veteran) talent rather than dead weight.
I'll take those "deficiencies" over weak goal-tending or a lack of talented centers any day of the week.
Even if Shero decides to not make anymore moves or signings, the Pens are in good shape, and considered one of the biggest winners of the 2010 off season.
The team will also be lucky enough to start the season with a healthy roster unlike the past few seasons.
With so many things looking up for the Pens, highlighted by the opening of the new, state-of-the-art Consol Energy Center, the team will certainly be expected to live up to the expectations that have been building since watching Montreal celebrate their victory in Mellon Arena.
Looking beyond the team as a whole, pressure is also being put on individual players who need to step up their game.
Fleury closed the season with a shaky performance between the pipes. The confidence that blossomed as the Pens crept up the ranks in the 2008-2009 playoffs shriveled under the pressure.
A good half-season showing from Alex Goligoski in 2008-2009 when Sergei Gonchar was out with a shoulder injury served him well until Goligoski was seemingly unable to replicate his performance. He then lost his defensive abilities and offensive touch.
Speaking of offensive touch, hopefully Kris Letang can find a way to keep his shots within the vicinity of the goal mouth. A player who was drafted because of his potential to play a Paul Coffey-like style, Letang's three goals in the season could use an upgrade squared.
Most importantly, Evgeni Malkin must find a way to re-evaluate his game after going from NHL scoring champion and MVP nominee to a player whose game was the epitome of average.
Time and time again, the Pens have proven that they are the best team in the NHL and certainly the one to beat. When that reputation has stuck to a team like a piece of gum to the sole of a shoe, then the expectations rise if the team finishes a season with a poor performance.
Fleury has shown that he can be the brick wall, Goligoski has shown that he can play a complete game on both sides of the ice, Letang has shown that he can put the puck in the net, and Malkin has shown that he can be a superstar who can singlehandedly control a game.
The Pens have shown that they have the character, chemistry, and talent to win the Stanley Cup.
The expectations have certainly risen and so must the level of play in order to live up to those expectations.
There are no excuses this time.
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