The Pittsburgh Penguins – A Wake Up Call Into a New NHL

Penguins – A New Reality

Imagine a team full of AHL players all struggling for a spot on the roster. This scenario plays out during the off season every year. However, for the penguins, this was the 2003-2004 season. While they did not make the play offs with this rookie team, and rookie coach they did do something – they were able to compete on an NHL level. Now let’s fast forward a bit to now, past the lockout, and past all the arguments. Let’s look at the new 2005-2006 NHL. The penguins have acquired leadership, talent, and a will to win. Not to mention hockey’s newborn superstar, Sydney Crosby.

Imagine now a team with players like Ryan Malone, who put up competition for rookie of the year, with no one to lend a hand, or even Dick Tarnstrom, who was a defensive leader for the season, on a defensive core that lacked everything from leadership to experience. Imagine if you can… filling the holes, and granting great young stars a bit of experience, coupled with great leaders at every position. This is the New Pittsburgh Penguins, and this is the New NHL.

Defense

I start with defense because everyone is looking past the penguins success because they feel the penguins lack defense. I believe this to be a falsity. I believe any Pittsburgh native can easily disagree with this. With a staff of Dick Tarnstrom, Brooks Orpik, Lyle Odelein, Josef Melichar, Ric Jackman, and Steve Poapst, all led by new signing Sergei Gonchar the penguins are far from hurting, in a defensive aspect. They have two of the top offensive defensemen in the league in Tarnstrom and Gonchar. They also have three stay at home bruisers in Jackman, Orpik and Odelein, and they have good two way players in Poapst and Melichar.

Don’t believe me? Well its hard to prove to you that Orpik is as good as I believe, but watching him play is the key. He plays with intensity, and with this new speed based offensive system, every team needs an intense player to put some fear into those fast flying offensive players. Don’t get me wrong please, this is a young defense, but it is now defense with guidance, and every player fits a role. This is called teamwork, something that has got the devils to a cup year after year. Remember that.

And since the talk is offense, offense, offense this year, let me throw these numbers at you. Gonchar has recorded more goals (74) and more points (241) than any other NHL defenseman since the 2000-01 season, as says the NHL official website. Add to that the fact that Tarnstrom finished with 52 points last year, a leader amongst defensemen. Also Gonchar is at a career total of +57, something that he can teach to players within the pens defense who struggle in keeping up the +/-.

The penguins defense also has something else going for them, everyone doubts them. If teams are going to come into games saying they are going to roll over the defense of the penguins, they will have another thing coming this year, and when they are dropped in the offensive zone, and our speedsters are taking it down the ice, they’ll be picking themselves up wondering what just happened.

Goaltending

The penguins received a future in goaltending with the signing of Marc-Andre Fleury, and last year found out what it’s like for a rookie goaltender, who has no one to look to. Fleury was fighting against a set of young goaltenders, not learning with them. Now with Thibault signed to the penguins organization, we have a strong starter who can teach Fleury the way to grow stronger, and also win us games until Fleury is ready. Let’s face it; in the last few seasons of Thibault’s career, if not all of them, he has never had a stellar defense in front of him. This year he will have a growing crew. I’d take Thibault over Burke or Joseph any day of the week. Once again, don’t get me wrong, neither of these goalies will be league leaders, but I don’t believe we will see the same leaders we are accustomed to anyways with the new rules. New goalie stars will rise, and I feel the penguins have a staff of tenders who can step up to the challenge.

Offense

The penguins have one of the strongest offensive threats in the league. Some may argue, and to those of you who do I pose the following. With obstruction being called, everyone knows how dangerous Super Mario is, now add to the mix Crosby, Recchi, Leclair, Palffy, Gonchar, Tarnstrom, Fata, Malone, and Koltsov. I don’t need to remind everyone that during the best season the Flyers have had in a long time, there was a guy named Recchi leading the squad in points. Also with a year of recovery, we can start seeing a flash within leclair. A year off of a game where you play day in and day out, is an eternity. Then add Palffy, a player who has no idea what its like to play with a crew that isn’t on IR half the season, as the kings led the league, and broke records, in man games lost.

Now I know a lot of people are saying, ok… sure those players are great… but can you really mean it when you say Koltsov, Malone, and Fata? Yes… Yes I can. In this new league speed is going to be something every team will need and fear. Rico Fata and Koltsov are some of the leagues fastest blue line to blue line players. These guys will get fed passes from the Defense from blue line to blue line, beating many opposing teams defense back to the line. With some work on the hands, these three could be a massive scoring threat, especially when they will be paired with a checking or fourth line. Also as stated before, remember that teams cannot forget our defensive presence in the offensive zone. The penguins in my opinion have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.

Again many people and many NHL teams will disagree, this is where the penguins will thrive, catching these teams off guard.

Coaching

Last but not least, lets remember this is Eddy-O’s second season behind the bench, and much was learned from a tough season. With leadership on the team, Eddy can focus on teaching and training these guys, allowing players like Mario, Recchi, Leclair, and Palffy lead them on the ice.

Division Claims

Let’s not forget as well that if the penguins can win their division, they are heading to the playoffs with home ice advantage. Many people have dubbed the Flyers winners of the free agent market, I dub them losers. Let me pose this question. If someone sent you a message and it read… “We offer you Peter Forsberg for Tony Amonte, JR, Mark Recchi, and John Leclair” … would you ever say… GREAT! I wouldn’t because you take the role players of the team, and replace them with one great player. That is not teamwork, that is not the NHL. Also, as a huge devils fan, I know a hurting team when I see one, with their losses, I think they could be in for a long season, but they always find a way to pull out the W. This division won’t be easy to win, but let’s not hand it over to the Flyers without playing the games first.

Conclusion

The Penguins are not the maple leafs, avalanche, or red wings… They are a small market team with their hometown support. The same thing they were when they won back to back cups in the early 90’s. There will be nay-sayers, however, when its time to play, I feel many people will be stuck with their foots in their mouths and say…. Wow… this team can play. Will we in the cup?… no probably not… do we have a shot? Most defiantly.