Pens may actually be better than last year
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Quick question: If the Penguins make the playoffs, will the mayor change his name to Luke Jordanstahl?
Here's a better question, raised by USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen during our conversation Saturday: Is this Penguins team better than last year's at the same point of the season?
At first, the notion might seem preposterous — especially if you put too much stock into Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the first time in 13 games the Penguins did not record a point.
How could any team lose one of the best all-around players in the world (Marian Hossa), plus a key team leader and power-play presence (Ryan Malone) and be better?
Break it down, though, and you realize it's a legitimate question.
• The Penguin's top two players have expanded their games and are showing they can play at peak level concurrently.
At various times in their careers, it seemed that when either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin took a step forward, the other receded, just a bit, into the shadows. Lately, they seem intent on proving that two suns can, in fact, burn to maximum brightness in the same universe.
They also can combine for zero shots, as they did yesterday. But that was only the second time that's happened, and as Flyers forward Mike Richards put it, "They still had their opportunities."
• Crosby is healthier than he was late last season. And remember this: If he hadn't missed five games, he and Malkin would be waging a titanic, in-team battle for the scoring title, separated by only a few points.
• The third and fourth lines are better. Matt Cooke is a prime example why. He has more points (27) than Jarkko Ruutu's ever had in a season and is every bit as abrasive.
• The team's other under-25 players, besides Malkin and Crosby, are flourishing. That would include center Jordan Staal, defenseman Kris Letang, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and winger Tyler Kennedy. Staal, Letang and Kennedy (who had no goals in last year's playoffs) have benefited greatly from coach Dan Bylsma's aggressive, skating-based system.
• The power play alignment actually makes sense lately, with Malkin freed from left-point exile. (Next step: Dump the puck when a team such as the Flyers puts four men across the blue line).
• The top line might be as good or better, even without Hossa. Crosby now has two capable scorers/well-rounded players on his wings in Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz.
Here's the thing: The Penguins could actually be better than last season and not go as far because the playoff field will be radically improved. Last year's field was banged up and not all that special in the first place, as compared to a potential top three of Bruins, Capitals and Devils this year, plus lower-bracket teams that are rolling at the right time.
None of which is to minimize the losses of Hossa and Malone. Hossa gave the Penguins a third player who could win a game by himself. Malone had become an inspirational force.
Oh, yeah, and this year's team still has to make the playoffs .
Know what, though?
I like the Penguins' chances of getting through the East again, which is something only a fool would have said a month ago.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins trade Sutter to Canucks, sign free agent center Fehr
- Sutter: Staal effect felt on 3rd line with Penguins
- Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed
- New Pens winger Fehr ready for defense-first role
- Penguins to appear on national TV 18 times in 2015-16
- Reliving the moment a decade ago that shifted the Penguins' history
- Pens assistant GM Fitzgerald leaves for Devils
- Penguins bring in analytics expert from Carnegie Mellon
- Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed