That's what one blogger/writer/pundit is asking. And frankly, with a response like this...
Are the Pens as good as the team that went to the finals last year? On paper, they are not. The departures were significant enough to be damaging to any team. However, do the Pens have the capability to get back to that level this season? Absolutely. Any team with two elite players like Malkin and Crosby will always have some success.
...he doesn't exactly give a definitive answer. So let's do what we do best when the offseason strikes; over-analyze everything.
Be warned...it's a long post. I may even keep it up till Sunday-ish unless we have some news breaking.
First off, this guy's username is Nordiques100. This can easily mean two things:
1. He's an old-time hockey fan and he writes from experience.
2. He's an old-time hockey fan who hasn't accepted the new league
In any case, I'm not really here to bash Nordiques100, no matter how depraved he seems with a name like that. The best thing about him being a Nordiques fan who has yet to adapt to the absence of his team is that he should provide a non-biased opinion on his team coverage.
Which is why I chose him. That and the fact he's not an ESPN writer. We'll get to them much later...
But I am here to contrast his views, and that I will do. Starting with...
There is no stronger 1-2 punch up the middle that Crosby and Malkin. Malkin came into his own after Crosby got hurt and took his game to the next level. He was a handful to contain and having the both of them in the lineup causes fits for opponents checking them.
Honest assessment, although many Pens fans would agree that the two work better apart. And frankly, that's better for the team as well.
Though Malkin struggled some for parts of the playoffs, the experience gained should push him to reach towards yet another level of excellence.
The "struggle" is probably in reference to that point midway through the Flyers when Malkin came down with the flu and was unable to shake it throughout the remainder of the run. I don't expect non-Penguins fans to follow minute things such as which player has the sniffles or not, so let's allow it to slide...
Crosby is arguably the world's best player. The vote is probably split between him and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby did show he could take his game to a new level in the playoffs and proved to be a horse when it mattered most. He will now need to go even further to take his Pens to championship status. There is probably no better playmaker in the game today and he is probably the most imaginative and creative player around.
Now that I've separated that sentence from the others, that really does just sound like the stating of the obvious.
The team is hopeful Satan, Sykora and Fedotenko provide some solid support scoring for their stars. It might be a reach to expect Satan to be that 40 goal man he once was, but playing along side any one of the Pens top centres could turn his career around. Fedotenko was a key cog in the Lightning's championship from 2004 and his playoff experience will be invaluable. The Pens are hopeful he can replace some of the size and scoring ability lost with Malone gone.
I'm a bit insulted that Nordiques100 didn't include Sykora in the list of "stars." Ask any Pens fan and this guy had a stellar year with the Pens. He and Malkin teamed up to make one of the best duos in a Sidless lineup - and that's a fact. As for Satan. "40 goal man he once was" is kind of funny to me because he only scored 40 once back in 1999 with the Sabres, never going above the low to mid-30s again (37 in '02, 35 in '06). Do I think Satan will fit in well with his new teammates? Yes, I do have high expectations for a guy who, for all intensive purposes, is coming to us like Alexander Mogilny came to the Devils back in the 90s.
The addition of Cooke could be a quiet coup for Shero. He is an agitator and solid penalty killer who could really add some sandpaper to the Pens. With players like Talbot, Godard, Dupuis, Kennedy, the team has a decent group of blue collar, hard working individuals that are willing to do the little things that make up a successful team. Their leader in that regard is young Staal. Staal has grasped with open arms the checking line centre role and emerged in the playoffs as a great all purpose player. He can play the PP, he can score, he can check, he is a handful to contain with his size, he is starting to become a great faceoff man and he showed a knack for making big plays at key times. While he could play on other team's top lines for like half the league, he has embraced filling in this role with the Pens and will be a major piece of their puzzle in their drive for the Stanley Cup.
I like the blue collar reference because it's entirely true. And to show some appreciation for Jordan Staal is also worthy of Pensburgh praise. Hey, everyone knows Staal didn't really play up to his potential last season. But what they do know is that he is capable, had a ton of bad bounces come his way and made up for it on the PK.
Now I'll agree with the line about the PP. He wasn't exactly a killer on the PP unit. He came up short countless times and really rushed some shots in the playoffs. But you know what? When he scored it really mattered. You can't find a clutch guy like that willing to play on the third line and for a cheap price like we have in Staal. This may also be the reason why he'll eventually get too big for his britches and ship out somewhere down the road. But that's still far off from now...
The Pens have accumulated a significant amount of depth on defence and they know as well as anyone that they will need it. You know your defence is strong when a veteran and proven winner like Sydor is 9th on the depth chart. They have a ton of offensive skill with Gonchar, Whitney and Letang leading the way.
My only problem with that bit is that it should read "there is lot of POTENTIAL with Whitney and Letang..." Neither one of them really played to their peak level this past season. Whitney, after signing a solid contract with the team, punked out and really disappointed me. Letang, a killer in the shootout, needs to shoot the puck more and not try to maintain a 1.000 shooting percentage.
Gonchar has also become a defensive stalwart adding to his tremendous offensive game that includes sound playmaking and a major league point shot. Whitney doesnt produce as much due to not being on the top PP unit, but he is an invaluable contributor who is tremendous at joining the rush.
Eh, Whitney was demoted. And by "rush" he must mean the "give-and-go" play with Sid...
Letang is slowly but surely getting the hang of the pro game and while he is not big, he is very game and very willing to compete. His offence and skating are why he is here and if his defensive game continues to get better, he could be a big impact player.
Probably why he was a scratch during the Finals. Can't hold it against him. The level of play just surpassed him. It's a lot to ask from a rookie...
Players like Eaton, Gill and Scuderi know their role and that is to play a safe sound defensive game. Gill added a big need for size on defence, and while he is slow, he hardly looks that way with all the speed and skill the Pens have. The Pens kept the right free agent when they reupped Orpik long term. While he isnt a point getter, he can play mean and tough and brings those intangibles to a team that lost quite a bit of it in the off-season. That dominant shift he had in the finals was just a taste of the kind of impact he can have. All teams need this kind of character.
Dead on with everyone, especially Orpik. You don't let a guy like him go because, like Nordiques100 said, every team needs a guy like him - which ultimately makes it an "every team wants" kind of situation.
If there was any question about Fleury's ability to be an elite goalie, he answered them in the playoffs. While it is still necessary to see if he can consistently be a top goalie over the next few years, the Pens certainly know now he is capable of playing at a top level. Fleury was terrific in the playoffs and if he can carry over that momentum into this year, that will be music to coach Therrien’s ears.
You know what? It's nice to see someone acknowledging this. We all know that Fleury was a great goalie who really just had to come into his own, and honestly more than a few of us were surprised at how good he was when he came back. But he proved a lot in his second half of the season. If people are starting to notice, then people will start to fear as well. That's something I, as a Penguins fan, can easily live with.
So long as Fleury can keep those soft goals at a minimum and make the big saves in front of his stingy defence, the Pens will be a difficult team to beat. Therrien will need to ensure though that Fleury does not get worn down. The injury was a bit of a blessing as he was fairly fresh for the playoffs. Without Conklin, Sabourin will need to play well when he gets his chance as the Pens need a reliable backup to take some pressure off Fleury.
I don't know whether to take that "fairly fresh" statement as a method of reasoning for Fleury's play or to just dismiss it. After all, no guy is entirely fresh after an injury, regardless of sport. For a more proven player who has put in his time over the years, a return from an injury probably isn't AS big a deal because he knows the game. But for a kid like Fleury to go down early in the year, jump on board towards the final stretch and play like a machine in the playoffs up through the finals; well, it has to be more than just the concept of being well rested.
FINAL SYNOPSIS (as previously quoted in the intro)
Are the Pens as good as the team that went to the finals last year? On paper, they are not. The departures were significant enough to be damaging to any team. However, do the Pens have the capability to get back to that level this season? Absolutely. Any team with two elite players like Malkin and Crosby will always have some success. The fact is the dynamic duo is surrounded by a pretty good supporting cast still and they have good goaltending, good coaching and a manager willing to do what it takes to win. The pieces are still in place for another long playoff run. It will now be up to the young guns to take their games to the next level so they can lead their team to glory.
I bed to differ. The Pens are as good as last year, because I'm gauging it with how they looked on paper this time last year. A lot of people are factoring in Hossa's presence into this equation. This is wrong. He wasn't with the team for their ups and downs, he just came around for the ups.
Here's the breakdown:
Mat Cooke = Ruutu
Eric Godard = Laraque
Fedotenko+Satan = Malone
No one added to the roster is equivalent to Hossa. But we don't need him.
Even more so, Nordiques100 makes sure he covers all his ground to not provide us with a definitive answer in any way, shape or form. So we don't really know how they're going to finish, other than they're not as good as last year but they can be. Thanks.