By Adam William in Sports
October 20, 2011
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the deepest team in the league; fact. Without their two superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing much or in Sid’s case, at all, in the 2011 season, the flightless birds find ways to soar to victory.
The goaltending has been stellar since The Wizard of Croz went down in January from a duo of hits by then Capitals forward David Steckel and Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, the hit that ultimately put Crosby on the shelf.
Marc-Andre Fleury put up a phenomenal record down the home stretch last year after starting with an absymal record. Brent Johnson, a career back-up goalie, fits that role and plugged that gap for the Pens last year, being their number one until Nov. 5 when Fleury had a standout performance against their later playoff rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fleury has three wins, one loss and one overtime loss on the season, while Johnny has one win and two overtime losses.
Defense has not been the Penguins specialty for years, but in the last two, head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden have changed this teams mindset completely.
The acquisitions of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek in the 2010 off-season secured a solid backline pairing along with stud defenseman Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik.
Last year, the two newbies to the team seemed a little confused with the system, but found their ways in the latter part. Off to a strong start this season, it’s like night and day for the two acquisitions.
Letang, who was in strong consideration for a Norris Trophy last year, the NHL’s best defenseman, continues to amaze fans and critics with continued maturity and strong play early on in this season. In seven games, Letang has one goal and six assists for seven points. Recently suspended on a hit against Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov, the Quebec native will return after tonight’s game against Montreal and pick up right where he left off before the two game suspension.
Ben Lovejoy, Matt Niskanen and Derek Engelland have been solid third line defenseman and have their own distinctive skill sets that keep them in the NHL.
Lovejoy is more of an offensive defenseman who will jump up in the rushes and contribute with shots on goal. Niskanen is a solid two-way defenseman; as strong offensively as he is defensively and Engelland is a stay at home crusher. If you get to close to Fleury or any other star player, Engo has no problem with dropping the gloves and standing up for his teammates.
Now, on to the very potent offense of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
James Neal was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a trade last year for defenseman Alex Goligoski and did not live up to the hype of the goal scoring power forward he was billed as. Scoring only one goal in twenty regular season games and one goal in the seven game playoff loss to the Lightning, fans were very curious to see how he would react this season.
Eight games in and six goals later, Neal is tied with Toronto’s Phil Kessel for the league lead in goals. Playing without Malkin and Crosby has not affected the 24 year old winger at all. Just imagine what’ll happen once those two centers get back into the line up and develop chemistry with Neal. It’s going to be unbelievably scary.
Jordan Staal is stepping into his own as an offensive minded forward now. Usually put out their for his defensive abilities, Staal will have to take on more of a load in the scoring department.
Offseason acquisition Steve Sullivan is not a dynamic scorer, but his presence on this resurgent power-play has calmed this young team down. Sullivan, 35, is a seasoned veteran in the league is known for his patience with the puck and stick skills. Providing some security and composure on the blue line during the man advantage is a vital part to any team’s success.
And then there is the never ceasing question: When will this team be fully healthy? The answer is not certain as of right now, but everyone in the hockey world knows that when they are at full strength and have two of the world’s best players in the line up more consistently, the Penguins will be the most dangerous team in the NHL.