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It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby Getty Images

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins

Another year with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their prime turned into another year without a Stanley Cup.

The Penguins got an MVP season out of Crosby, who was head and shoulders above everyone last season, but wound up getting bumped out in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. Making matters worse, the Pens had a 3-1 lead in the series until Henrik Lundqvist turned into brick wall.

Crosby struggled in the postseason and not just because of Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky‘s heroics. A rumored wrist injury may or may not have slowed him down. He also didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. Outside of Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Niskanen others failed to show up. James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang all had lackluster performances.

The Pens got a breakout season from 19-year-old Olli Maatta on defense and managed to dance around a stroke to Letang during the regular season to have a solid year on the blue line. Niskanen’s big season helped soften the blow of losing Letang and Paul Martin was steady as well.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury was steady as anyone putting up a .915 save percentage both in the regular season and playoffs. While he’s always easy to point the finger at when things go south, he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s problem last season. A lack of strong forward depth, especially in the wake of losing Pascal Dupuis for the season, and defensive injuries helped make life a lot harder than it had to be during the season and worse still during the playoffs.

Offseason recap

If was a summer of front office changes for the Pens. Both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were sent packing and in came former Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as well as first-time NHL coach Mike Johnston from the WHL Portland Winterhawks. After bowing out to the New York Rangers, that was the last straw for Penguins ownership.

The Pens also made big changes on the ice as well as they traded Neal to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik bolted for the truly greener pastures of Washington to join the Capitals. They also let Jokinen, Tanner Glass, and Joe Vitale walk in free agency.

Pittsburgh may have made the sneakiest splashes of the offseason landing former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and former Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie on one-year deals. Blake Comeau, along with Spaling, will also help their bottom six be not as easy to push around.

  1. phtjoey - Aug 21, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    another enigmatic team. this team is clearly much better than what we’ve seen in the playoffs in the past 2 years. their success clearly lies in the hands of crosby. as go crosby so goes the pens. as much as i was a fan of 87, i am beginning to doubt his ability to be the ‘guy’ to lead this team to another SC. he used to be the #1 player to build a team around. not anymore. he’s been surpassed by toews.

    crosby is my choice for the pens “under pressure” article.

    • lowenni - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      Don’t know why he got so many thumbs down, what he said is pretty accurate. The Pens do go as Crosby (and also Malkin) go, and he hasn’t gotten it done. That being said, I still think he can be “that guy”. He does have the ability. But the rest of his comment is fair as well, I think most hockey fans would agree that Toews has surpassed Crosby as the best leader and winner in hockey.

      • phtjoey - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:17 PM

        well, lowenni, you get it, and i just gave you 100 thumbs up. ;-)

    • mcphillthy - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      I’d agree with this but when Crosby was hurt Malkin stepped in as THE man and Malkin carried that team that year.
      As good as Crosby is, and we all know he is a beast, I don’t think he is what he used to he before his concussions. He’s not as aggressive. He doesnt push through the opposition like he used to. He is still a dynamic player, I’m not saying he is anything less…. But watching him since he got hurt its clear to me he isn’t the same. I can’t blame the guy after career/life changing injuries like that though.
      I don’t think he can carry the team anymore and It’s shown the last couple of seasons. He will still put up points, no doubt…. But his injuries changed what was the best player in the NHL. Again, I detest Crosby, but it’s a huge loss for the sport of hockey that he can’t perform at the level he once could

  2. lowenni - Aug 21, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    This should be good

  3. bsaures - Aug 21, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    Its quite simple why they havent won since their last cup they havent had anywhere close to the same depth. Why? Because for a few years now they have had 3 of the top 20 highest cap hit players in the league. This has prevented them from adding solid depth because they dont have the cap to spend a proper amount. Add in some high regular season finishes and trade deadline deals and they havent had the cheap prospects like they used to.

  4. kastout11 - Aug 21, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    I am a Flyers fan so I cannot stand the Pens or Crosby, but people (phtjoey) who think that Sid is not the guy to build a team around are crazy. He is head and shoulders better then any player in the league. Look at his supporting cast and compare it to Toews. If you give Sid a roster with some depth like the one in Chicago, I guarantee they would win the cup or have a deeper playoff run. Although Crosby did not have a great playoff last season, he cannot be blamed for the team not advancing. A poor defense and depth were the downfalls to the Pens playoff run last year, not Sid. I think goaltending was the reason the three previous years. Still the best hockey player on the planet, even though I don’t like him.

    • phtjoey - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:22 AM

      i did not say crosby is not the guy the pens should build a team around. i said that if i had a choice of any player currently playing in the nhl to build a team around it would be toews. until recently it was crosby. he went down a notch or 2 on my list of all current nhl players. pens would be crazy not to be build a team around him because he is without a doubt in my mind the best and most complete players on the pens roster.

      what are crosby’s playoff stats for in last year’s plaoffs?
      2013-14 13Games 1G 8A 9Pts

      Not good enough. i expect more from him, and so should the pens and their fans.

      • miketoasty - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:55 AM

        Scored almost a point per game, playing against arguably two of the best goalies in the league. Playing with an underachieving left wing, and a revolving door of AHL players on his right. Also, not to mention playing with an injured wrist.

        Yep, definitely under achieved this year. /s

        I will expect more of him when he get’s wingers with talent and isn’t playing with an injury.

        Signed, a Pens fan.

      • phtjoey - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        all valid excuses….. after the playoffs he said he wasn’t injured????? 1 goal in the playoffs is not good enough for his type of player. the issues with the right wingers were present during the regular season as well, and he managed to score 38 goals and 68 assists. let’s stop with the excuses. his job as the top player on his team is to put the puck in the net during the regular season and the playoffs. jokinen had 7 goals and malkin had 6 in the playoffs and they too played against “arguably 2 of the best goalies”.

        i’ve been a very strong proponent of crosby, but now it’s time to call him out.

      • miketoasty - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:27 AM

        You obviously don’t follow Penguins hockey very much. Bylsma pushed the no one is injured and if they aren’t playing you’ll never know why card. Injuries were always a mystery with him. You do remember when Crosby was held out original after getting concussed it wasn’t deemed a concussion until he was out for what a month or two? He was injured and it showed every time he took a shot, which wasn’t that often to begin with in the playoffs.

        Also, if you look at his numbers before and after the Dupuis injury you will notice his numbers drop pretty dramatically. I know first hand since he was on my fantasy hockey team. Trust me, he wasn’t the same force at the end of the season as he was at the beginning.

      • phtjoey - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:26 AM

        there was a drop in his numbers, which was absolutely normal after loosing Dupuis, but Crosby still played very well. his point per game average differentiel before and after Dupuis’ injury is 41. that’s far from dramatic. according to you he was lying when interviewed in the dressing after the being eliminated when he told the reporters he wasn’t injured. ok. let’s hope he’s healthy next year because they are one of my favorite teams to watch, though i believe a western conference team will win the cup again in 2015,

  5. pjblake2redwings - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    hate crosby but give credit when it is earned. he is the best player in the nhl right now and is someone who you build a team around. he might not be the leader everyone wants him to be but he has the skill. someone else can lead the Pens while he puts up all the points

  6. xtrememachine1 - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    So its Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT. So in other words its just like the other 364 days of the year. Great.

    • theageofquarrel - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:12 AM

  7. billiam55 - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    what defense do they have now

  8. pitpenguinsrulez - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    I feel a lot better about this years team as opposed to last year. Last years team I felt was much weaker vs the 12-13 team and it showed come playoff time. Pens are still the King of the Metro/Old Atlantic. Fleury won me over after last years playoff performance. In my opinion the Pens have to win a cup in the next 4-5 years. Now can hockey begin already.

  9. ravanator - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day! Nobody in the world could care less, except the toothless yinzers and fair weather fans. This team is in shambles, no leadership, a front office in disarray, and an overbearing owner. It’s so fun watching this sinking ship. Cheers!

    #steelcitymeltdown
    #crosbyisold
    #malkinisaneverwas

    • miketoasty - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:58 AM

      An overbearing owner? Lemiuex spends more time in the shadows than probably any other owner in the league.

      Speaking of a team in shambles, how was missing the playoffs last year with your -35 superstar?

      Ugh, I shouldn’t feed the troll but it’s just too hard to resist.

      …. Wait, Crosby is old? Ovechkin is older than him, I don’t get it.

      • theageofquarrel - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        Don’t waste your time with the pile of human garbage

  10. jdlinder11 - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    The team clearly has much better bottom 6 depth, but it came at the expense of top 6 talent. I’m not convinced that Dupuis will ever be close to what he was before the knee injury, and he and Kunitz are both really getting up there in age. I’m fine with Hornqvist in place of Neal, but I’m concerned about having to rely on Bennett playing on his off side on the second line.

    Defense should be fine. Even if Maatta cant play immediately, they have enough depth there to manage.

    The pens flat out overpay for goal tending. Fleury had a good year, but it wasn’t anything but average. Paying 5 million a year for average goal tending isn’t a good idea. Fleury will inevitably want a raise after this season, and unless Fleury plays outside his mind this year, I think they should let him walk.

    I am excited about the new coach, specifically his system. Bylsma wanted his defensemen to treat the puck like a grenade; get rid of the puck as soon as possible, and get it as far away as possible. It was a very high risk system that put immense pressure on dmen and often left them hanging. Stressing possession and moving up ice as a team, where a player has multiple options for distributing the puck will be a welcome change.

    • zico25 - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      http://capgeek.com/leaders/?season=2014&type=SALARY&position=G&limit=50

      Yeah, Fleury is overpaid at #15 for goalies.

  11. 950003cups - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    Happy Pens Day!

    I’ll be brief and to the point.

    Crosby hands down is still the best player in the league.

    Malkin is a reliable leader.

    Fleury sucks.

    The defensive issues are simple. Paul Martin sucks, (always has) and he’s your best defenseman.

    Pens need a defensive development program. It’s hard to draft NHL ready defenseman. They have to be developed.

    Pens fans, I thank you for the platform.

    Carry on gentlemen.

    • steelpenbucs87 - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      Paul Martin has been reeally solid the last two years. So no. Also Ehrhoff might be the best defenseman. With Martin, Letang, Ehrhoff, and Maatta, they have a strong top 4.

      As for the bottom pairing and depth – they actually have a ton of young developing depth. Part of what made it so easy to let Niskanen (Orpik blows) walk was because Harrington, Dumolin, Pouliot, Bortuzzo, Despres, and others are waiting in the wings. The real shame is that one of those positions will be held by Scuds corpse. They have a defensive development program – that’s actually been the problem. They focused so much on defense that their forwards (specifically their bottom six) suffered.

      Speaking of forwards…. jury is out as far as I am concerned. On paper ditching Glass, Vitale, and others while retaining Goc, getting Dupuis back, and adding a couple of other guys is helpful, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. It could be better, could be more of the same.

      Barring significant injury they shouldn’t have any trouble making the playoffs…. but at this point that doesn’t really matter. Postseason successes or failures are the ultimate measure of this team.

  12. petersteelewannabe - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    I am no fan of Letang, he is way over-paid even at 100% (we Flyer fans know over-paid D men when we see them), but I don’t think he should be judged too harshly considering what he came back from. Crosby, yeah, he didn’t have a good playoffs by his standards but while not really under-appreciated by everyone outside of Pittsburgh, he will always be subject to fan-based ball-busting. The one Penguin that IS way over-rated is Kunitz. Mid-level 2nd or 3rd liner playing with anyone other than Crosby-the fact that he made the Canadian Olympic team is a joke. Hard to say if Pittsburgh is better or worse than last year but given the general weakness in the EC, they are as likely to make it to the Finals as anyone else as long as the don’t suffer the injuries they did last year. The real question is MAF, I think this is the last year of his contract?

  13. c1md6 - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    When is it not Penqueens day on Penqueens Hockey Talk.

  14. blomfeld - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    GIRL POWER ‘NHL’ STYLE !!!

    As ardent, red-blooded and values-driven supporter of the SC Champion LA Kings (ie: the planet’s greatest professional ice hockey team), I’m nonetheless inclined to offer my best wishes to Crosby & crew on this their special day. You girls rock man ! :)

    GO CROSBY !!!

    GO PITTSBURGH !!!

    GO METRO DIVISION !!!

  15. ronniethec - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    In today’s NHL it’s not the team with the big nMe superstar or goalie with the big numbers that will go far in the playoffs. The playoffs are a grind physically and mentally from game one. The teams that can roll 4 lines consistently, have forwards that can play defense, and have a goalie that can make the big 3 rd period save are the teams that go far in the playoffs.

  16. diehardintheburgh09 - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    As someone who has been watching the Pens for a while and watched the Shero/Bylsma era run its course, we went from a team that had probably the best third line in the NHL (Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Stall, and Matt Cooke) to Brian Gibbons, Brandon Sutter and Jayson Megna. I really like Sutter and what he accomplished over the course of the season, and the contract at which he is signed is bargian from I honestly thought he was going to want ($4.5 million or so). To anyone that thinks that the Pens arent going to be a better team this year, you need actually look what was done during the offseason. I am a fan Neal, but that trade had to happen. Hornqvist scored 22 goals last season probably playing alongside Colin Wilson and David Legwand most of the year. If you were to put that alongside a Malkin, he could score more than 30 goals in a season, he has done it before with the Preds. For Malkin’s other wings I turn to a guy like Kasperi Kapenen as a possible player. I know that it is more than likely going to Beau Bennet, but the way that Guerin/ Rutherford/Johnston have been praising this kid I don’t see why not to give that guy a chance on Malkin’s wing. You can probably learn a lot from playing with one of best players in the world. Now back to the more realistic person that you will probably see playing with Geno, Bennett. He did miss about 50 or so games last season, and I do remember hearing that he did re-injure it during the playoffs. He still hasn’t had a full season of top 6 minutes. I am not quite sure of what he could do, but I am excited. To main issue that the Pens did address over the summer was the bottom six. You already have a solid thrid line center in Sutter, with the additions of Spaling (comparable to Tyler Kennedy) and Steve Downie (comparable to Matt Cooke), it looks similar to the lines that won the cup in 2009. Losing Guys like Orpik and Niskanen doesn’t help anything at all. For what the price was (especially Brooks) it was not going to worth it. At the begining of last year Niskanen was willing to take a discount to stay in Pittsburgh. Now I really hope Washington enjoys Orpik’s money in couple of years. When you look at whom the Penguins have to bring up, It shows promise. Signing Ehrhoff was awesome, he is a player that can help out a guy like Maata on the blue line. Then you look what the Penguins have for prospects for Defense. Despres is someone that could bring that Physicall/ shutdown game that orpik brought to every game. There are many other possible players that could get that last spot on the Penguins blue line. I dont think that is for the worse either. The last part is between the pipes. Fluery seems to be first person to get the fault for anything that goes wrong. He is NOT an elite goalie. He is above average at best. He is usually one of the most consistant players on the team. I felt that Zatkoff at the start of year I was not sold on him at all. As the season went on he proved to be a solid back up with a record of 12-6-2. When they signed Griess I thought that was a good signing because i was at the game when the Pens played PHX, and Griess was in net. He looked solid during that game. And just a quick note, Tristan Jarry had a crazy year in the WHL with 44 wins and taking the Oil Kings the Memorial Cup and winning it all

    • petersteelewannabe - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:43 PM

      As a Flyers fan I follow what Pittsburgh does and I have to say, the youngsters the Pens were forced to bring up last season because all the injuries your D had are pretty promising.

    • 950003cups - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:42 PM

      I just thumbs downed it for being too long

      • mcphillthy - Aug 21, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        Lol. I did the same thing

  17. petersteelewannabe - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:58 PM

    One other point, the teams in the Metro are, for the most part, all closer to each other now.

    Carolina is probably the only team still without a chance of making the playoffs.
    The Islanders, while under the radar, will be better and may be in the playoff mix with a little luck.
    NJ, who would have made the playoffs if they knew how to win in OT are at least as good as before.
    The Caps, terrible contracts or not, should be better and probably can get back to the playoffs.
    Columbus is better as well and should be in the playoffs, maybe even as the div #2.
    Philly will probably take a step back and have to really fight for a playoff spot.
    The Rangers, while definitely not as good as last year, should be #3 in the division at worst.
    Pittsburgh should be able to win the division despite the major changes.

  18. paulerhythm - Aug 24, 2014 at 2:09 AM

    New coach, new system, two elite players in Crosby and Malkin. No doubt they win the Metropolitan Division and are in the playoffs. How far do they go? Well, can’t blame Shero/Bylsma if they don’t go further then 2 rounds, right?

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