#1 The Pittsburgh Penguins Identity: Harlem Globetrotters Explanation: I remember one of the first games I played in the AHL – it was against the Hartford Wolfpack, who then had PA Parenteau and a bunch of other names that are now in the NHL. It was one of the few times I remember thinking "I might not be good enough to play in this game." That’s how teams look against the Penguins when they’re healthy and jamming – like minor leaguers. They’re the best team in the NHL by a sizable margin when they have Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Staal, Letang and crew going. That simply makes other teams look like the Washington Generals. Or worse, the Capitals (I kid, I kid – the Caps are gonna be tough in playoffs).
Question: Health, as always. There’s a reason we haven’t seen this team together very often. Staal is injury-prone, Malkin’s not immune to some struggles, Crosby and Letang have a combined four concussions this season, and playoffs aren’t easy. Here’s to hoping they can stay healthy.
It's interesting comparison to make, and not one that should be unexpected given the Pens have won 12 out of 13 and have averaged 5.25 goals per game since Sidney Crosby came back four games ago. But is it an accurate one?
Maybe it's just me, but when I think "Globetrotter", I think fancy, showboating, guys spinning basketballs on their head and a bucket full on non-existent water. A great show, but a lot more sizzle than steak, if you know what I mean.
And while the Pens power play might be a little pass happy and is certainly an exhibition of skill, the backbone of Pittsburgh's style is Dan Bylsma's system. And that system stresses possession, physicality, north/south play, very "meat and potatoes" stuff. And it shows- some of the teams best forecheckers and best positional players play on the top line like Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Lower lines have Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams, Tyler Kennedy are all great effort players and adept on the boards and in the corners to win puck battles and keep the cycle going.
There's no doubt Bourne compares the Pens to the Globtrotters in a positive, admirable manner, and in a lot of ways the shoe fits as far as a highly skilled team rolling the competition (for now anyways). And that's a good thing, just important to remember that this team has some substance behind the style.
The injury talk is valid, obviously one more kabong to Sidney Crosby or Kris Letang and the Pens would look a lot more like the outgunned 2011 playoff version than the current juggernaut. We'd probably debate that Jordan Staal is injury prone, he's played through pain just gotten some bad luck. It isn't as if he has a history of nagging, recurring injuries like a bad shoulder or a wonky groin or a history of ankle sprains or concussions. His injuries have been frequent in the past year, but they've been more of the random variety that any hockey player could get at any time. That's about splitting hairs though and the main point Bourne makes is valid.
That said, a lot of national media members are going to take note and say a lot of things about the Pens. As you can see from Justin's weekly ranking compilation, the team is held in very high regard right now. It'll be interesting to see if Bylsma can keep them on point and stick to the hard-working ways that has generated the success they've enjoyed so far this year.