Sidney Crosby Returns: 10 Reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins Can Win Stanley Cup
Without Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin for a good portion of last year's season, the Penguins were still able to accumulate their second-highest point total in franchise history. With Crosby in the lineup this season, the Pens are 5-2-1, and Sid has 12 points in those eight games.
Pittsburgh has their NHL superstar leader back, and all the pieces are seemingly in place.
This leaves the Atlantic Division's first-place team with all systems go for the rest of the season, which will be smooth sailing, so to speak, should the club stay healthy. With Crosby back, the Penguins certainly can go all the way this season.
Top Penalty Kill
At 86.1 percent, the Pittsburgh Penguins maintained the No. 1 penalty kill in the entire NHL last season. This season, the Pens are again amongst the league's best, currently third in the league at 88.4 percent.
Assistant coach Tony Granato has the penalty kill in full force again this season for head coach Dan Bylsma's Penguins. With the staff they sport on the ice and behind the bench, it will still be more difficult for teams to score on the power play against Pittsburgh.
In addition to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin is obviously a brilliant compliment, who has earned the right to be called a top player in this league, having won an Art Ross Trophy in 2008-09 after recording 113 points. The two-time Hart Trophy nominee is an astounding talent and steps his game up when it really matters: in the playoffs. Through 62 career playoff games, Malkin has tallied 73 points. That includes his remarkable 2009 postseason run when he accumulated 36 points in 24 games, en route to a Conn Smythe Trophy, making him the first Russian to ever take home the award.
With Sidney Crosby and Malkin the obvious dynamos up front for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the rest of the offensive guns help comprise quite the offensive crew.
James Neal is currently leading the Penguins in points (26) and goals (15). Jordan Staal, second on the team in goals, has emerged as a top power forward in the game, capable of playing both ends of the ice. Pascal Dupuis, often a top winger for Crosby, is currently third on the team in points, with 21 through 28 games.
Chris Kunitz also gets top minutes for the Pens, providing a speedy forecheck, while also contributing offensively. Steve Sullivan, a veteran presence brought in from Nashville over the summer, is also playing around 16 minutes each game and is showing he still can be an impact player.
The Pens have a steady offensive flow up front. They just need their top guns to remain healthy.
Overall Team Defense
The Pittsburgh Penguins are amongst the league's best when it comes to defending goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The team allows a low average of only 27.9 shots per game, good for fourth in the league and second in the Eastern Conference. The Pens also rank third in road takeaways, though 29th in home takeaways, strangely enough.
On the back end, the Pens sport one of the league's top defensive units with the likes of Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek, who are some of the game's best shutdown defenders, constantly making life much easier on Fleury than it would be elsewhere. Throw top offensive guns Kris Letang and Paul Martin in there, and you have a complete core, with both ends of the ice taken care of.
With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang, it's going to be hard to keep the Pittsburgh Penguins off of the score sheet if you give them the man advantage.
Once Crosby gets back into the full swing of things, watching him work a power play with James Neal will truly be a thing of beauty.
While it's not amongst the league's best this season, Crosby will provide an invaluable boost on that front without a doubt.
Marc-Andre Fleury has already helped backstop the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup back in 2009. This season, he's been off to a great start, with a sturdy 14-6-2 record, 2.20 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. His 14 wins are good for second in the league right now.
Additionally, backup netminder Brent Johnson has proven he can be a reliable backup if he plays with consistency. It's no mystery that Fleury is the No. 1 guy come playoff time, but Johnson is an experienced veteran that will help take some of the regular season load off of him to keep him fresh for the postseason.
Prior to suffering a concussion from a hit by Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty not too long ago, Kris Letang was on pace for a career season.
In all 82 games last season, Letang recorded 50 points, which is currently the best of his career thus far.
This season, even after missing seven games, Letang is still on pace for 64 points in 75 games—remarkable numbers for a defender. However, it's nothing really new for the 24-year-old Letang, who has proven he is a top NHL defender on the back end for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In addition to the Pens' top guns like Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, the bottom-six and supporting cast are very fundamentally sound.
The Pens have Matt Cooke, who surprised with his offensive production earlier to start the season, Tyler Kennedy, Richard Park, Aaron Asham and Craig Adams up front to bring the energy.
On the back end, guys like Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik are indispensable for the Pens, playing top minutes and even better defense. Round out that corps with Ben Lovejoy, Matt Niskanen and the offensive Paul Martin, and you have a very strong squad of rearguards.
There's skills you can hone in practice, and then there's invisible skills that just have to come from within: intangibles, such as will, determination and leadership. The Pittsburgh Penguins have shown they can win without the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Without them for a great chunk of last season, Pittsburgh managed to tally the second-highest point total in franchise history en route to the playoffs.
This club ranks in the elder half of the league when looking at average age, but with many top guns still young, it's clear the Penguins have an ideal mix of age and youth working in their favor, both on and off the ice.
Thanks to solid coaching, a great leadership corps and determination, this team has proven they can not only handle adversity, but tear it down with relative ease.
Sidney Crosby has accomplished so much in his young career already, whether it be him being the youngest captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup or scoring the "Golden Goal" to win a gold medal for Team Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. He has quickly established himself as the league's top player in a matter of a couple seasons.
There's no denying just how dazzling the 24-year-old Crosby's return has been. Through eight games, Sid has tallied two goals and 10 assists. Even though he's only on pace to play 60 games, he's also on pace to score 91 points, which shows just the kind of knack Crosby has for producing.
Dan Bylsma has been one of the NHL's best coaches since taking the reins of the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly three-and-a-half years ago back in 2009. He would go on to capture the Stanley Cup in his first season behind the bench not too long thereafter.
In both of his full seasons with Pittsburgh, the club has recorded back-to-back seasons of at least 100 points, good for second place in the Atlantic Division, only behind the Philadelphia Flyers.
Over the course of his 189-game stint as the Pens bench boss, last year's Jack Adams Award winner has registered an outstanding record of 128-62-23.
Off to a great start again, Bylsma has the Pens on top of their game and also in familiar territory, only one point behind the Flyers for the division lead.