Destiny is defined as, the events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? At the beginning of the year, news broke that Mario Lemieux was looking to sell the team, made everyone wonder, why? Clearly, the stock of the Pittsburgh Penguins has risen to a great extent with their play in the last half of the season. The Penguins are sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 47-25-8 with 102 points, 3 points ahead of the New York Rangers. Whoever gets the second place spot in the division gets home ice advantage in the playoffs. With Mario looking to sell the team, is Sidney Crosby trying to get one last cup for Mario, sure looks that way.
The Penguins have been on fire winning 7 in a row and 13 of their last 14. Coming from behind by as far as down 3-0 yesterday to the Ottawa Senators. Coming down from a 3 goal deficit is amazing in this league, it is rare to even see 3 goals by the same team in a game. The Penguins have scored 5 or more goals in the last 5 games, astounding numbers. Scoring in this league is hard enough, but the Penguins are embarrassing key divisional opponents on their own ice. Beating the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on April 2nd to me was one of the best wins of the year. Getting through the players heads that they can in fact, beat anyone home or away is key. Mike Sullivan has made it clear that each player has a significant role on this team, might not be completely noticeable to every fan but it very well should be. The game against Philadelphia this past Sunday, Tom Kuhnhackl blocked 3 consecutive blasts on the penalty kill, stunning the Flyers. Sacrifice is not a statistic in hockey, but Tom really should be noticed by that. Nick Bonino has been amazing, knowing that he had to fill the role of Evgeni Malkin (out due to injury) could not have been an easy task to accept. Bonino collected 3 assists yesterday aiding in the Penguins erasing the 3 goal deficit. Sidney Crosby, is back to his MVP level. He is being the captain that leads by example whether it was scoring a big goal, or getting back to make a big defensive stop, he is there. Matt Cullen might be the most valuable acquisition this offseason by any team in the league. The 39 year old is hungry for a cup and is a great locker room guy to have, who does that remind you of? A guy by the name of Bill Guerin who led the then young Penguins to the promised land in 2009. Eric Fehr is a key penalty killer, his vision on the ice and his stick work leads to many kills on the penalty kill. Carl Hagelin, is one of the fastest players I have ever watched. He can beat an icing call, he can help on the penalty kill, and most importantly, makes the second line of the Penguins one of the best lines in the league, oh, and Evgeni Malkin’s name is not on it. Patric Hornqvist, this guy has taken his game to a new level. We all knew that his net front presence was good, but not this good. The way he gets in oppositions heads, the way he handles himself on the ice is stellar. You need a guy like this on your team in the playoffs to establish that net front presence in front of the great goalies in the league like Henrik Lundqvist. Phil Kessel was getting a lot of scrutiny about his play and lack of effort, ever since Sullivan became coach, you do not see many complaints about him now. He is getting many more shots to the net, not missing every time like he did in the first half of the season. You have to hit the net to score, right? I think Sullivan pounded into Kessel’s head that you just have to hit the net and good things will start to happen. Chris Kunitz is being the veteran leader that he always was. Having 2 Stanley Cup’s on his resume (1 with Anaheim and 1 with Pittsburgh) is a great attribute to have, especially for the younger players on the team that will need him come playoff time. Bryan Rust was named the Penguins rookie of the year and for good reason. His presence between the third and fourth line has provided depth for this organization that has lacked in years prior. Conor Sheary to me is an exact replica of Tyler Kennedy. He is very small, fast, and can split defenders with ease. He can draw penalties at the right times and stays out of the penalty box. Oskar Sundqvist scored his first every NHL goal against the New York Islanders on Saturday, a short-handed goal. He is a great candidate for the penalty kill and can play well in the defensive zone for being a center. The Penguins are finally getting what they expected out of Ian Cole. Cole struggled most of the year but has turned his game up to a new level at the right time. Trevor Daley was a steal for Rob Scuderi. I never would have thought General Manager Jim Rutherford would have been able to pull that off. He can score and is a fast defenseman that can carry the puck through the neutral zone without turning it over. Brian Dumoulin is an exciting player to watch, he is finally getting his chance to play every day and contribute every single shift he is on the ice. Kris Letang will easily be considered for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) for this season. Letang has 66 points in 70 games played this year and is a leader in the locker room. He averages close to 30 minutes/game and rarely disappoints. Justin Schultz was struggling hard in Edmonton. Working with the Penguins staff has upgraded his play tremendously. He can come in late to an offensive breakout and get that trailing goal that the Penguins have collected on several occasions. Can you say any more about the play of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray? They both take their play and focus to a new level each and every game, winning games left and right. I mean, it is nice when your team can score 5 goals a game. Malkin, Maatta, Wilson, and Porter remain sidelined for now. I believe in this group of guys and so do the players in the locker room.
No one could have predicted where the Penguins would be on April 6, 2016, here they stand. Sullivan could easily win coach of the year at this point, he thrives on focus and dedication which has worked for the Penguins up to this point. We are all excited to see what destiny has in store for the Penguins in the playoffs. Most likely, they will be taking on the New York Rangers in the first round. The Rangers have bounced the Penguins out of the playoffs the last two seasons. You know what I think? Third time is a charm. This is the team you want to play for the prized possession and I have full confidence that Mike Sullivan will lead this team to achieve the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins have 2 regular season games left against divisional rivals in the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers. It would be amazing if we were the reason the Flyers do not make the playoffs.
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