By: Austin Tocco, The Burgh Blog Writer
Pittsburgh, one of the best cities in America when it comes to fans loving their sports franchises, one of them being the Pittsburgh Penguins. Winning is a tradition in Pittsburgh no matter what the sport, the Penguins have seized many division championships and a few conference championships on the way, but since the Penguins were born in 1967, they have only raised three Stanley Cups. If you ask any Penguin fan located within the 412 area code, they would agree that it is not enough.
This season has already provided obstacles for the organization whether it was the new faces in the locker room, ownership attempting to sell the team, or injury. Adversity is extremely common to any sport, the strong ones overcome it. To start the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins took an early road trip out west to Dallas and Arizona. Most hockey players will view this time on the road as a bonding opportunity, learning new faces and personalities takes longer than a day. With four new players just on the offensive side in the starting lineup, chemistry will have to be swift. Your beloved Penguins fell to 0-3 to start the year and it had raised many questions and speculations. Rumors about Mike Johnston already being on the hot seat, Crosby’s demise, the list goes on and on. The objective for any sports franchise is to not let the media get in the way of what they are trying to accomplish, the Penguins did just that by winning seven of their last eight games.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the winningest goaltender in Penguins History, his late game heroics and his calmness that he brings to the rink everyday does not go unnoticed. As Ben Lovejoy stated, “He’s been so good. Definitely our MVP game in and game out.” Fleury has posted a 6-4 record with a .942 save percentage and a goals against average of just 1.71 through 11 games this year. With Fleury composed behind the play of the aggressive forwards, the Penguins should be in great shape for the playoffs, right? On the flipside, goals have been hard to come by for this forward heavy team. Players like Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin are supposed to be putting up colossal numbers. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are tied with the team lead in goals scored with 4 and Malkin leading the way in points with 10. Crosby is nowhere to be seen on the scoresheet. This is a cause of concern, is Sidney Crosby, after a decade of nothing but staggering numbers finally plateauing? After all, he has been in the league for 10 years. You have nothing to worry about Pittsburgh, every player in every sport goes through droughts, like Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates who slumped through nearly the first 2 months of the season. Crosby being the professional that he is, will find a way to light the lamp and continue the exhilaration that he provides to the fans night in and night out.
With the team starting out on the wrong foot, something has to be done. The toughest question to answer coming into this season was who will Kessel be skating with, Crosby or Malkin? To me at the beginning of the season, it was a no brainer. I believed that Kessel should be playing with the captain, end of story. Now, 11 games into the season Kessel is alongside Evgeni Malkin. As Malkin stated in his interview several days ago, “We found good lines. Coach changed the lines.” In hockey, it is all about getting into a rhythm and attacking the net with outstanding passes and high traffic area shots, the puck will find its home. Crosby is alongside Pascal Dupuis who has been dealing with several long term injuries that have left him sidelined for most of last year and Patric Hornqvist. The Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin is centering the struggling David Perron and Phil Kessel. Nick Bonino is centering long time Penguin Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett. Matt Cullen is centering Eric Fehr formerly of the Washington Capitals and Sergei Plotnikov the Russian juggernaut who was brought in as a free agent this year.
Defense has been an issue in the past, but has proved its critics wrong with stellar numbers so far in the season. The young core of defensemen include Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, and Adam Clendening. These young men are surrounded with class when it comes to the team’s veteran defense core including Rob Scuderi, Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole. Now that the Penguins finally have the core that they have always been searching for, it is time to win, now.
Being a Pittsburgh Penguin fan this year should be nothing short of exciting. Just imagine if Fleury can continue to be above average as he has been the past several years, Crosby puts the biscuit in the back of the net, the bottom six forwards can stir up the other team and even score a goal here and there, and the duo of Malkin and Kessel find a way to get it done. This team will be unstoppable and teams will be scared to come into Consol Energy Center in front of 18,000 strong.
The Penguins continue their quest tonight in Vancouver, British Columbia against a familiar foe in Brandon Sutter and the Canucks. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be in Canada till Saturday playing the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. The team will welcome the Montreal Canadiens for a Wednesday night showdown on NBCSN at 7:30 EST.
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