The Pittsburgh Penguins have come out of the gate with guns blazing and are already looking like a strong pick for playoff contention later this year. Pittsburgh surprised a lot of people last season with the way they managed to handle the Eastern Conference, particularly in their 4-2 series win over the dominant Washington Capitals. While they weren’t necessarily a long-shot thanks to talented players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins still punched way above their weight to reach the Stanley Cup, where they easily handled the San Jose Sharks.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise and the Penguins are looking to accomplish what no franchise since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997/98 has managed to do by holding onto the Stanley Cup for two years in a row. The team has retained pretty much the same roster as last year’s championship squad and fans are hoping it will be enough to see them to the end of the line.
As of this writing Pittsburgh sits atop the Metropolitan division of the Eastern Conference, although it’s definitely one of the most fiercely contested divisions in the league. The Penguins are currently on a seven game winning streak and are boasting the best looking offense in the NHL. Captain Sidney Crosby leads the league with an impressive 21 goals, and the team has the offensive depth to support Crosby in the rare event that he’s having an off night.
The Penguins are first in goals, averaging 3.5 per game. However, as good as the offense is the defense is hardly reaching the same level of excellence. The blueline of Pittsburgh is 21st in the league when it comes to goals against at 2.9 per game and this could prove to be a problem later on in the season. Matt Murray proved his worth as a goalkeeper during last year’s playoff run and has been much more consistent than Marc-Andre Fleury. But he’s going to need a fair deal of help from some able defensemen if the Penguins hope to retain their title.
Pittsburgh clearly has the talent to go all the way, but they face a tough division where the Rangers, Flyers, Capitals, and Blue Jackets are all making their own playoff pushes. The top five teams in the Metropolitan are separated by a mere three points and those teams are also out-performing every other team in the league except for Montreal and Chicago. As we come closer to the season’s halfway mark it’s becoming clear that the Metro is an absolute nightmare, and the Penguins will have their work cut out for them if they hope to reach the finals again.
Still, with Crosby playing some of the best hockey of his career and Murray showing that he’s one of the better goaltenders in the league the Penguins are definitely among the favorites to lift the cup again at the end of the season. Pittsburgh is already an offensive powerhouse, and with a little added defensive talent they could prove to be unstoppable.