by Tony on 04/29/13 at 08:07 PM ET
And so it starts.
As we near the beginning of another year of NHL Playoffs with the Penguins facing the Islanders, many of the prognosticators list the Penguins as a strong contender, if not favorite, to win the Stanley Cup.
It's certainly not an outlandish prediction: The Pens went 36-12 in this shortened regular season, not to mention GM Ray Shero bolstering an already strong lineup at the trade deadline with seasoned playoff veterans hungry for a Cup of their own.
Shero has practically given Head Coach Dan Bylsma as close to a loaded deck as you can give prior to the start of a playoff run. Of course, thing is, Stanley Cups are not won on paper. It's as much of a crapshoot today as it was 20 years ago.
So the Penguins have the tools to go all the way without a doubt, most agree with that statement. But there are some very valid situations that could throw a serious monkey wrench into the Pens' works.
In not much of an order, they are:
- Overconfidence - I can only honestly see this possibly being an issue in the Penguins 1st round matchup vs. the Islanders. But the Pens know that the Islanders play some good hockey against the Penguins. Don't let the Islanders 1-4 record vs. the Pens fool you, they match up pretty damn well, particularly with their speed. That said, the real danger here is if the Penguins, with the aforementioned stacked lineup, get into "Globetrotter Mode". Pens fans know exactly what I'm talking about - The no-look, behind-the-back passes, the passing up of clear scoring opportunities to make the extra, unnecessary, forced pass. All of that goes into the bigger issue of overconfidence. If the Pens get overly nonchalant and start hot-dogging it, a very pesky team like the Islanders can make them pay for it.
- Penalties - You're gonna notice that most of these things I list overlap each other. But a mediocre Penguins penalty kill, only ranked 25th in the NHL, matched up against a very decent Islanders powerplay, tied for 10th in the NHL, could end up biting the Pens directly in the butt-ocks. The point I'm trying to make is that rather than make an unrealistic statement that the Pens need to eliminate all penalties, what they can do is eliminate the dumbass penalties. I'm referring to the lazy hooking penalties, and most of all the undisciplined, retaliatory penalties. The more time the Penguins can keep the play at a minimum of even strength, the better the chances for a Penguins victory.
- Goaltending - I talked about this ad nauseum last week, but it bears repeating. A Marc-Andre Fleury performance that is anything less than decent spells big-time problems for the Pens. Now before everyone screams "Vokoun" at me, I'm aware of that, naturally. But here's the question: Does HCDB have the cojones to not only put Vokoun into a game in which Fleury is struggling, but then turn right around and start him the next game if need be? I just don't know. Regardless of the struggles Fleury has had the past three postseasons, the fact that MAF has hoisted a Cup for Pens 4 seasons ago still now holds a lot of weight. This one might just be #1 on the list.
- Injuries - Hey, it's the playoffs. Injuries will happen. The crapshoot is who gets injured, and when. And yes, the Penguins stacked lineup makes overcoming the loss of just about any of their players that much easier. I will say, though, that the Pens are just a different team, mentally, without Sidney Crosby out there. And James Neal is a completely different player without Evgeni Malkin out there. In addition, let's not forget, most of the Pens big horses are just now coming off significant injuries, including Crosby's jaw/teeth, Malkin's shoulder, Neal's concussion and Paul Martin's wrist. So we'll just have to wait and see as the playoff rounds go by which of the playoff teams escape without suffering significant injuries.
- Composure - Last, but certainly not least. As I mentioned, a lot of these tie into each other. If you've been watching NHL Playoff hockey for any period of time, you know damn well that opponents will be targeting those players coming off injuries. But it goes a step further. Remember the Pens/Caps 24/7 when Barbeque Bruce Boudreau talked in their pregame meeting about getting into Malkin's head, and how he will retaliate? That wasn't a shocker to those who've been watching Malkin all these years. Push enough buttons, and Geno will overreact. That's just being honest and objective. The same goes for Neal, although not to the same extent. The thing that will make this issue easier for the Penguins is that the Flyers are watching from their couches this year. Have to admit, the Flyers are great at pushing buttons. But it's not like the other teams "won't" try it as well. The Islanders don't have the horses that more physical teams such as Philly or Boston have, but they're gonna try to force the stupid retaliatory penalties that I mentioned earlier. Which ties into the Islanders' PP vs. the Pens PK. Which could expose MAF more.
See how that works?
So again, the Penguins are built for a long run. But they've got to guard against those monkey wrenches at the same time.
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Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
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