The greatest time of year is upon us: playoff hockey is in full swing. My belief is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to walk away with Lord Stanley hoisted high above their heads once again this year. When you think of Pittsburgh hockey in 2017, you think Sidney Crosby. I have been Pens a fan my whole life, and I still remember when the Penguins got Sid. I was in Canada that Summer with my family, and everywhere we went, as soon as people heard that we were from Pittsburgh they would say, “oh boy, you got our Crosby.” This kid was so good that an entire country worshipped him before he even played a professional game. Having watched Crosby’s whole career, I understand the Canadian obsession with their would-be captain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him make gorgeous no-look passes or score impossible goals. Sidney Crosby is hockey’s best player in the world, and it hasn’t even been close because of Ovechkin’s inability to lead his team to a Stanley Cup.
After the slowest start of his career last season, Crosby ended the season on a historic streak to lead his team to Playoff victory, receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Crosby came back this season and went on a rampage. He scored his 1,000th point and lead the league in goals for the 2nd time in his career. Simply said, he had the best season of his career and just keeps getting better.
Yes, having the best player in the world definitely helps your chances of winning it all. But the Penguins are more than just one player as the star star-studded team tackles their league-record 11th consecutive playoffs. Next on the list is Evgeni Malkin, arguably one of the top five players in the world. While Crosby finished 2nd in points in the NHL in 2017, Malkin finished 14th. They have both consistently been top performers in the league, consistently playing well during the regular season as well dominating in the post season. Expect that to continue as they make their way to back-to-back championships.
Tied for 18th with 70 points is Phil Kessel. Kessel played a key role in the Penguins’ playoff performance last year. His line, HBK (Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Kessel), were major contributors throughout (56 points combined in the playoffs), and will continue to do so. Connor Sheary has emerged as an above average player and added 10 points last postseason, notching 53 points this season in his sophomore year in the league. The list of consistent contributors goes on, but the point is this: this team can flat out score, and it could come from anywhere. The Penguins finished the season 1st in goals per game.
Last season, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup with a rookie goalie, Matt Murray. He went down during warmups before their first playoff game against Columbus, but the back-up is no chump. Marc-Andre Fleury is a Stanley cup winner, and has played as such through the first two games of the playoffs, allowing only one goal in each of the games. His play in the first game’s first period was spectacular. Columbus tallied 16 shots and the Flower shut them down, allowing the Penguins to come in strong in the 2nd period and score three straight goals. After a third overtime victory for the Pens with the first round Blue Jackets pinned against a wall with a 3-1 deficit, Pittsburgh will almost certainly move forward to play whoever dares meet them in the second round of the playoffs.
The list of stars and invaluable veterans go on and on, but this depth is only so successful because of Pittsburgh’s strong foundation made up of Crosby, Malkin and Kessel. The star-studded Penguins look poised to go on quite a run this postseason and I know Crosby has some room left in his trophy closest. I look forward to tossing him a beer in this year’s parade, after I watch him and the Pens wreak havoc on the remaining teams that stand in the way of Pens in reaching Stanley Cup glory for the fifth time in franchise history and for the third time in Crosby’s time as the leader of this team.