Monday, March 9, 2009

Penguins are playoff ready

It really wasn't that long ago. The Penguins were in 10th place in the conference, Crosby was suffering between two wingers that couldn't bury the puck into the Grand Canyon and the team was playing some ridiculous defensive system. Now, that's all changed. As most underachieving teams do, the Penguins were looking for a turning point. A comeback win against the Red Wings or the Lightning. A shootout win against the Sharks. A blowout win against the Islanders. The true turning point was the firing of Michel Therrien. Some people will argue that this wasn't all his fault. That Gonchar returned at about the same time Therrien was fired and that Gonchar is the spark that turned this team around. Or they'll say that the trades turned everything around. Well I'm sorry but I'm going to have to inform you that you're wrong. Dead wrong. The Therrien firing was the turning point period.

The Therrien firing brought about change. It brought about change in the locker room terms of style of play. I love hearing sports reporters that pretend to know something about hockey say "I don't think the Penguins really changed their style that much. They just seem to have more energy now." They have "more energy" now because more guys are active in trying to score goals. Offensive defensemen like Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang or Alex Gologoski now have the freedom to skate with the puck, cross over the blueline and take a shot on goal. The past two Stanley Cup Champions believed in this and it worked out pretty well for them. This strategy also opens up space for the forwards because now defending forwards can't collapse down low in their own end. New coach Dan Bylsma also taught the Penguins to be more aggressive and attack the net, another drastic change in the style of their play. Use their talents to their fullest extent to try and to score goals, not sit back and try to defend. Didn't "change their style"; These people just simply don't get hockey and they sit there and act like they're experts on the sport when in reality they don't have a clue.   Never have and probably never will.

To accommodate the new style of play Shero went out and made a couple of deals to strengthen it. First, they deal away Ryan Whitney who became expendable once Kris Letang and Alex Gologoski showed they can play in the NHL. In return they acquired a hard nosed, playmaking winger in Chris Kunitz . Then on trade deadline day, Shero plucked away Islanders captain and power forward Bill Guerin in exchange for a conditional draft pick. Crosby not only had a competent winger to play alongside with, he now had two! The Crosby, Kunitz, Guerin line is the best non-Malkin line he's play on since entering the NHL in 2005. These trades solve a lot of immediate problems like toughness, leadership and overall talent at wing.

With two lethal top lines, puck moving defenseman now being asked to play to their strengths along with the majority of the team, this makes the Penguins a very scary playoff team now. They have the grit, the speed, the leadership, the momentum and of course now, the good coaching to get them far into the playoffs. This team is much better than whatever seeding they'll finish with when its all said and done, one of the top 4 teams won't be happy that they drew the Penguins in the first round. Don't think its possible? The 1992 Penguins barely made the playoffs tying the Devils for 3rd in the division (back then the top four teams from each division made the playoffs) and won the tiebreaker because they had one more win. That team finished the post season winning 11 straight and captured their 2nd Cup. The playoffs are a whole new game in the NHL and right now the Penguins look ready to play.

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