Pittsburgh Penguins: Why The New Look Pens Are Still Worth Watching
Nearly two NHL seasons have been completed since the Pens shocked the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now, as the 2010 season is coming to a close, Pittsburgh's team is barely recognizable to casual fans. Trades, injuries, and suspensions have forced management to give the Penguins a new look in order to keep up in the playoff race.
I will be heading out to Pittsburgh this coming Sunday for my first visit to the new Consol Energy Center to watch the Pens play a pathetic Panthers team.
While I know it can't top my visit to Mellon Arena last season—an OT victory over the Thrashers in which Bill Guerin dominated a fight and the players were given their season awards—it will still be a great day of hockey.
Sure I won't be seeing Guerin or Gonchar this year, or Malkin, or Crosby, but it will still be an exciting game, even if Matt Cooke is serving time for his unnecessary elbow.
For those fans who have lost interest in the Penguins since their stars have left the ice, here are a few reasons why you shouldn't tune out just yet.
Marc-Andre Fleury Creates Excitement Between the Pipes
Fleury may have had a slow start to the season with six losses in his first seven starts, but he's now won 31 for the Pens.
He's only allowing an average of 2.38 goals per game with a save percentage of 91.7.
Marc-Andre Fleury may have streaks of poor play, but he steps up in crucial moments and makes exciting saves quite frequently.
As long as Fleury is in the net, the Penguins will have a chance.
Backup goaltender Brent Johnson isn't so bad either.
They Still Have Talented Skaters
In the absence of Pittsburgh's star skaters, players that are not so well known have stepped up their game.
Jordan Staal missed a majority of the season, but his return has brought a solid combination of energy and pure skill to the ice for the Pens. Another young Penguin, Tyler Kennedy, has been forced into more time on the ice and has produced six points in his last four games.
Star defenseman Kris Letang may be in a bit of a slump, but the Pens need him to play and he'll turn it around come playoff time. Chris Kunitz and Maxime Talbot must also produce points in the absence of the Penguins' premier scorers.
James Neal, Alexei Kovalev, Matt Niskanen, Paul Martin, and Zbynek Michalek all arrived in Pittsburgh either just before or midway through the season. These acquisitions brought a mixture of veteran and young talent to a squad that had been depleted by injury and free agency.
There's still too much talent on this team for fans to give up on it just yet.
They'll Be in the Playoffs
Although the Pens have yet to clinch a playoff berth, they'll be in the postseason for the fifth straight season, unless the team somehow suffers a dramatic slump and other teams surge.
Anything can happen once the NHL's second season starts and the Penguins should be healthier by then. Defenseman Brooks Orpik should be ready to return from his finger injury and Arron Asham's concussion problems will have faded.
If the can manage to move past the first round, Matt Cooke will be back to bolster the Pens PK unit, currently the third best in the league at 85.9 percent.
The Penguins' depth has carried them this season. Will the team's success continue through postseason?
I guess fans can only watch and wait.
Sid Still Has a Shot to Play This Season
I failed to mention another possible returnee to Dan Bylsma's deep squad.
His name is Sidney Crosby.
The leader of the Pens, and arguably the best player in the NHL, has recently begun skating for the first time in months after suffering a serious concussion.
Crosby started off the first half of the season on fire, with 66 points in 41 games, but it's looking more and more likely that he won't be on the ice at all in the second half.
However, this past Sunday he donned full pads and participated in a few non-contact drills.
Keep your hopes up Penguins fans. Sidney Crosby may be ready to lead this team on a playoff run very soon.