Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

pitThe Pittsburgh Penguins are the Defending Stanley Cup Champions which means they are the team to beat, no matter what position they may finish in or what their record may be. In the standings, they’ve been the only consistant opponent in the Atlantic Division for the Devils but on the ice this season, it’s been a different story. Don’t get me wrong, they are a very talented team that just may go the distance again but I do wonder when consecutive years of deep playoff runs will start to show in their game.

Forwards:

When people talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is usually Sidney Crosby that leads those discussions and why not, the guy is currently tied for the most goals in the league (45) and has 89 points on the season so far. But don’t think that’s all the Penguins have. If Crosby has a slow night, guys like Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal will easily pick up the slack and carry the team. Last year the Penguins picked up Bill Guerin at the trading deadline and he proved to be a valuable assett in the run to the cup and so far this season, the veteran winger is continuing to produce for the Penguins. The Penguins are so talented up front, the oppositions defense cannot afford to have a bad night or they will pay.

Defense:

I don’t think the Pittsburgh defense is as strong this season. The Penguins finished 6th overall last season in “Goals Against” where as this season they currently sit 20th overall. Sergei Gonchar has remained pretty healthy over the season, has 10 goals and 34 assists which is a very impressive number and far better than any defenseman had for the Penguins in 08/09 but seems to be the only good thing on the blue line. Gonchar also has a -7 in the plus/minus column but he does log a lot of minutes per game. Kris Letang was certainly a bigger factor for this team last season but that may have had to do with Gonchar missing so much time to injury. The Penguins defense doesn’t really have a physical presence on the ice and I question their ability to shut down the oppositions better players. To me, if this team is going to repeat as champions, it’s going to rest on the forwards to out duel the opposition.

Goalie:

To me, Marc-Andre Fluery’s game hasn’t changed much at all. He’s one of the league’s better goalies but he’s not the best. In the 08/09 season he racked up 35 wins in 62 games played and is on track to do a little better than that this season. He’s on track to see around the same amount of shots for the year and probably have close to the same Save Percentage as last year. By no means are the Penguins weak in the area of goaltending and Marc-Andre Fluery is that type of goalie that can show up and steal some games, maybe even a series in the postseason.

So do the Penguins have a good shot at defending their title? Until someone knocks off the champion, you have to believe in this team. They are currently battling for 2nd place overall and constantly switch between 2nd and 4th place. The Penguins aren’t better or worse home or away so finishing 4th Overall isn’t going to effect them too much if they end up going deep and playing a higher seed team. If you are a Penguins fan, you have to feel pretty good about the possibilty of repeating as champions, something the city of Pittsburgh has done once before!

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