All season long, the media has thrown around the term "flip the switch", as if the Pittsburgh Penguins could turn everything around and get back to their playoff ways in an instant.
In some ways, a post-Stanley Cup "hangover" -- another favorite term -- has plagued the Penguins all season. After getting to Game 6 of the SC Finals in '08 and winning it all in a Game 7 in '09, the Penguins young core have amassed 290 games ever since October 2007. It's one thing to get up for a playoff game, quite another when you're in a town like Miami coming off three days in four games. So perhaps, maybe human nature, maybe something else, the results haven't been there. We all know an 82 game season is full of rigors and monotony. Those days are over now, so it's time to flip the switch.
What does that mean? How do they do it?
To a man, let's see...
Marc-Andre Fleury: Ultimately the key it all in playoff success is the goalie a team gets. Pro Hockey Talk ranked the goalies based on this season's stats and they don't put Fleury in a favorable light: he's 14th of 16 in GAA and 15th in save percentage. That's not going to cut it. Allowing soft goals won't cut it. The Pens need Fleury to revert back to playoff form, where he's won 30 games and has a .929 save percentage, both at the top in the league in this timeframe. Team is going no where if he doesn't find that form.
Sergei Gonchar: Gonchar's had a rough season due to various injuries/illnesses, but he still has 50 points in 62 games, including 30 power play points. Still, Gonchar's plus/minus this season was his worst since his first year in Pittsburgh and he's been on ice for a ton of goals against. Cut that down and keep running the PP.
Mark Eaton: Last playoffs Eaton played 18:07 a game, chipped in 4 goals, 3 assists and was a +4. The Pens need that kind of performance again, especially since it looks like he'll be playing a lot of tough even strength minutes as Gonchar's partner.
Brooks Orpik: Orpik's been one of the most consistent defensemen on the team, setting personal marks in goals, assists and points. His hits and blocked shot numbers are through the roof, and the team will need that, especially since Orpik will be counted on in a "shutdown" role. He's the team's most physical and forceful defenseman and that'll have to continue.
Kris Letang: Letang scored as many goals last playoffs (4) as he did this entire regular season. His role has been elevated and promoted, he's a lock to get more minutes than he did last spring (19:08 per night), and he'll have to be a key player.
Alex Goligoski: Mainly a spectator last spring, Goligoski is solidly in the lineup. He gets the lionshare of 1st unit PP time, and only has 1 PP goal to show for it since November. The Pens are going to need Goose to put the puck in the net when he's out there and maintain composure when the other team has the puck.
Jordan Leopold: Leopold's been a jack-of-all-trades since coming over in a trade. He can play 20+ minutes in all situations and has acquitted himself well in those regards. The team needs him to be a trusted member of the lineup, and with 46 career playoff games under his belt, he shouldn't be out of water there.
Jay McKee: At the first sign of injury, McKee has to be ready. Being shuffled to 7th on the depth chart probably wasn't what anyone imagined when McKee signed this summer, but we all know there will be injuries (think of what Goligoski and Philippe Boucher did last spring) and McKee has to be capable to answer the bell when it tolls.
Sidney Crosby: Just score. Just lead. Just keep bearing most of the weight the hockey world can put on a pair of shoulders and keep producing. Crosby's done it, no player has more goals since last April, and the Pens need another MVP performance. It's a lot to ask, but there aren't many answers Sid doesn't have.
Chris Kunitz: Health issues have robbed a lot of Kunitz's season and he's rested the last week to hopefully get close to 100%. Last playoffs he was a hitting machine and made a lot of great plays to get 13 assists in 24 games.
Pascal Dupuis: Dupuis has been a rare consistent forward and has reversed his position from last year at this time (when he was the 11th/12th forward in the lineup). Dupuis will likely start on a top line, and with that comes the responsibility to produce.
Evgeni Malkin: Geno hasn't had a season to remember by any means, injuries have lingered and he was bumped off his Art Ross crown before it started. Malkin's looked better in recent days, with 4g- 3a in his past 4 games, but he needs to stop taking penalties and he'll have a chance to defend his Conn Smythe position.
BIll Guerin: The old warhorse keeps chugging along, and he's got another shot at Stanley's silver. Guerin put up 15 points last spring but that was almost exclusively with Crosby and in recent weeks Guerin hasn't been tied to #87's coat-tails.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: Since becoming a Penguin, Poni has lost as many games to suspension as he has goals for the black-and-Vegas gold. He hasn't gotten on track, but neither did Marian Hossa in his regular season with Pittsburgh. Not that Poni is Hossa, but the team is counting on him to use his size to get in deep and pot some goals.
Jordan Staal: The third head of the three headed monster, Staal will get to play against lesser players when the opponents match up against Crosby and Malkin. In addition to his normal #1 penalty killing role, the Pens will look to Staal to chip in some points and turn the tide in a game's momentum to get where the team wants to go.
Tyler Kennedy: TK scored as many game-winners last spring as anyone on the team. He's got a knack for timely scoring and will always give an honest effort on the forecheck, but getting more out of him may be a stretch. In this instance, status quo may be exactly is needed.
Matt Cooke: Hits but not dangerous ones. Too much to ask for Cooke walking the fine line without jumping over it? Perhaps. Continued PK work must be stellar. Cooke can make life miserable for opponents, but if he strays too much it could be what unravels a series for his own team.
Maxime Talbot: Has to find his way, the Superstar of old has been relegated to a 4th line or even healthy scratch role this spring. He's got some jump in his step and always has that clutch in him. While he has nothing to prove and his achievements stand for themselves, Talbot's got to get on the ice to make things happen.
Craig Adams: Needs to improve in the faceoff circle, but his positional play and work on the forecheck will get him in the lineup. If he can chip in a couple goals like last playoffs, it's just a bonus.
Mike Rupp: If he's in the lineup, Rupp needs to do what he's done all season: hit like a demon, and show why he's the Noted one.
Ruslan Fedotenko: Dreadful season can be wiped clean if Fedotenko can play at the level he did last spring. He hit, he scored, he defended, he did it all. Maybe the one guy that needs to "flip the switch" the most.
So in a nutshell, there's the switch. It's playoff hockey and every decision, every play counts. It's the difference between going home early and continuing on the grind. Champions will have the answers and if the Pens are the team they've set out to be, that switch is flipped.