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Saying Sidney Crosby is the most important player for the Penguins is an understatement. The way the Penguins have been playing though it doesn't seem like he is the most important aspect of the team. And he isn't. It's Dan Bylsma. The man has introduced a type of North-South hockey which other coaches are trying to implement after the Penguins won the cup in 2009. The Penguins organization is so shrewd and disciplined that despite all these injuries, they have been able to plug in seemingly anyone and still be competitive. No, they are not racking up wins like they used to with Crosby. But they have been playing with a lot of heart, sending games to overtime and picking up points. If Crosby can return in time for the playoffs, or at least by the semifinals, this team will regain even more life and play with such vigor that it would not surprise me if they win the whole thing.
There are so many things to like about this new look Penguins team. The return of Alex Kovalev to Pittsburgh has invigorated his career and his dazzling stickhandling skills are reminding Penguin fans of the magic in the late 90s. The team is ranked first in penalty-killing which is a testament of how good their role players are. Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, and Craig Adams were a part of the 2009 team and their grit and leadership will help the Penguins a lot. The Penguins have a shut down pair this year like they did in 2009 with Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. This year it's Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, who have both played exceptionally well. Couple that with Brooks Orpik, who will be back by the playoffs, and Kris Letang's breakout year, and you got yourself a contender.
This team certainly has the defense to win it. But do they have the scoring? Their goals per game has dropped significantly since Crosby's injury. It was hovering near 4 goals per game before the injury but now it is slightly above 2. This is why it will be difficult to win in the playoffs without Crosby. Pittsburgh has not faired well against Philadelphia and Washington this season, especially without Crosby. If he can return and provide a scoring punch against those teams, Pittsburgh can literally make the Cup through grit and experience. And really, it's never the star-studded teams that win, it's usually the team that is composed of players who are willing to muck and grind.
And now to the pretenders: