by PuckStopsHere on 03/13/09 at 03:50 AM ET
With the playoffs about a month away, one of the hottest teams in the NHL is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were Stanley Cup finalists last year, so one has to think they can be successful in the playoffs. The Penguins have won nine of their last eleven games. This moves them into sixth place in the East Conference. They will be a tough first round opponent for the top seed that draws them.
Since I wrote about the Penguins earlier troubles they have had three significant changes. They fired coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma, they made trade deadline deals acquiring Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar returned from injury to anchor their defence.
The trades occurred after the wins had started to happen, so they cannot be the cause of any turn-around. The other two events (Bylsma’s hiring and Gonchar’s return) both occurred just before the start of the current streak. I think Sergei Gonchar is a more significant cause. Pittsburgh has struggled most of the season with defensive injuries and without a true number one defenceman. Gonchar is that man. He makes a big impact in the Pittsburgh defensive success.
A solid defence in Pittsburgh makes for a strong team, given that the team already has Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby at forward making the offence strong. It will not be much of a reward for a team to earn a top seed only to face the Penguins in the first round. This is especially true when the Penguins have played this well lately.
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