It’s been a few days since the Pittsburgh Penguins knocked the New York Rangers out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a series in which they dominated the Rangers. New York was only able to beat the Penguins once, a 4-2 win in game two in Pittsburgh. Though the game was at home, the Penguins had no problem beating up the Blueshirts in New York at their home, Madison Square Garden. After the series it looks as though the Pittsburgh Penguins are a serious Stanley Cup contender.
Pittsburgh Penguins are a Stanley Cup Contender
The beginning of the 2015-16 season was a rough one for the Penguins. They started out slow as their superstars, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel were not producing like they should have been. That called for changes from the front office. General manager Jim Rutherford made a move that would turn out to be highly effective as head coach Mike Johnston was fired and replaced by Mike Sullivan. Almost overnight, the entire team dynamic was changed. A systems change led to the Penguins firing on all cylinders.
Sullivan, who was previously the coach of Penguins AHL affiliate, immediately made moves as he brought up Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson and Conor Sheary. Rutherford made trades for the likes of Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley. The moves added much needed speed to the Penguins lineup and it helped Crosby, Malkin and Kessel get their game back.
Going through the Penguins lineup, they are fairly deep on the offensive end. The first line of Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist accounted for 16 points in the first round series against the Rangers. Behind them, only one player doesn’t have a point yet this post-season season, Chris Kunitz.
Malkin’s return from injury in game two of the series was a welcome sight for Penguins fans. He has immediately lit up the score board with two goals and seven points in four games. The team will need to get more out of Chris Kunitz (0 points), and Eric Fehr (1 goal) going forward. With Malkin in the middle, they have the tools to get them going.
The line of Carl Hagelin (1 goal), Nick Bonino (5 assists) and Phil Kessel (3 goals, 3 assists) has been a revelation for the Penguins. Kessel was brought in as the big off-season trade but struggled early in the year as he could not find chemistry with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. After the Penguins acquired Carl Hagelin from the Anaheim Ducks, this line was put together and has been rolling ever since. They were a big part of the Penguins second half surge and continued their fine play in the playoffs.
The fourth line of Tom Kuhnhackl (1 goal 2 assists), Matt Cullen (2 goals 1 assist), and Bryan Rust (2 goals 1 assist) have provided solid defensive play, some energy, and excellent secondary scoring for the Penguins.
With a team that is as deep as the Penguins, with scoring coming from just about every player in their offense, they are doing all of the right things to make a run for a Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh’s blue line isn’t as deep as their forwards, but they don’t necessarily need to be. With the way the offense puts up points, they didn’t have much to worry about with the Rangers. One thing the Penguins’ defense does an excellent job of is jumping up into the play and making things happen in the offensive zone. That will be a different story against the Capitals. If they jump up into the play and nothing comes from it, the Capitals will capitalize on the mistakes of their black and gold rival. Kris Letang and Olli Matta will have to step up if they want to stay with the Capitals.
On a goaltending note, Matt Murray has played unbelievably well for the Penguins. Jeff Zatkoff backing up Murray didn’t have the best series but with Marc-Andre Fleury presumably coming back soon, the Penguins shouldn’t have much to worry about with goaltenders. Although, Alex Ovechkin and company could make Murray look like a backup goaltender fairly quickly, only time will tell.
If the Penguins are able to get past the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, they will be the favorite to win the East. With the offensive core shooting, and scoring, on all cylinders they have a chance to knock out the powerhouse that is the Washington Capitals. The series should be a high scoring one with the offensive superstars that are on both teams. If Pittsburgh can continue scoring and hold the Washington offense the same way that Philadelphia did, they can come out of the series on top.
My prediction: Pittsburgh in 7.