Penguins' regular season becoming historic
OTTAWA — These Penguins hope to avoid the postseason failings suffered a generation ago by the 1992-93 Penguins, who infamously fell to the upstart New York Islanders in the second round.
One thing is clear: The 2013 Penguins and 1992-93 Penguins are the two finest regular-season squads in franchise history. The 1992-93 squad entered the Stanley Cup playoffs as a heavy favorite to win the Stanley Cup. So will these Penguins.
Which one is better?
“Now there's a question,” said Eddie Johnston, the former Penguins coach and general manager whose drafting helped build the 1992-93 squad and who is frequently in attendance at Consol Energy Center to watch coach Dan Bylsma's team.
“I can honestly say that I think this team could be as good. That team with Mario (Lemieux) and Ronny (Francis), that's one of the best teams of all time. But when I look at the Penguins now, and what they're doing without (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Paul) Martin and Jimmy Neal, I mean, how great can they be? This can be a really special team.”
The Penguins are riding a six-game winning streak into Ottawa on Monday night, despite not having Crosby, Neal or Martin during that stretch. Malkin, the reigning MVP who has been hampered by injuries all season, has only played in three of those games.
And, yet, the Penguins keep winning. “We're a very proud team,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said. “We know what winning looks like, and we want to do it every night.”
Dupuis may have shed some insight on the debate unknowingly.
For all of the things the past and current Penguins had in common — historic winning streaks, talented rosters and seriously bad injury/health luck — this group's work ethic is roundly admired. The 1992-93 team was so good, hard work wasn't really necessary in the regular season.
This team is different.
“This team just works so hard,” center Brandon Sutter said. “I've been on teams that had to work hard just to have a chance. This team, with the skill we have here, is different. When you have that kind of work ethic and talent, that's a great combination.”
The 1992-93 Penguins went 56-21-7, good for 119 points in what was an 84-game schedule that season. These Penguins, at 34-10, would be on pace for 127 points in the standard 82-game season and 130 points in an 84-game season.
The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens produced the most points in NHL history with 132.
“That's an awesome record,” Sutter said of his Penguins. “It's been great.”
One member of the 1992-93 Penguins doesn't feel like it's been quite great enough.
“It would be a hell of a series if we played each other,” former Penguins right wing Rick Tocchet said. “We would win in six because of the X-factor: No. 66.”
These Penguins, suddenly a veteran group with their many recent additions, will take their chances this spring. Like the Penguins 20 years ago, winning the Stanley Cup is the only goal.
“This,” goalie Tomas Vokoun said, “is by far the best team I've ever played on.”
And it might go down as the best team in Penguins' history if it claims the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup.
Of the Penguins' 33 victories this season, extra time only has been required on three occasions. The Penguins have won 31 games in regulation play, which ranks three ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for the league's top mark.
Pleased but not satisfied, the Penguins know they will be measured by the postseason.
“But that's the thing,” Sutter said. “As great at this is, we want something more. But yeah, it's been a great regular season. No doubt about it.”