thThe Penguins are soon about to kick off their 11th straight postseason appearance. The Detroit Red Wings are going to miss the playoffs and the Pens will be holding the longest active postseason streak in the NHL. Ten playoff runs. Ten. Did they all go according to plan? Hell no, they sure didn’t. But should we remember them and appreciate everything that this era of Penguins hockey has brought us? Absolutely.
Life flies by so fast in general on a daily basis, and sports are no different. To think that ten years has flown by in what feels like the blink of an eye is crazy.
I’d hate to flash forward to whenever the end of this Crosby/Malkin era comes, and think that I wish I had enjoyed all this so much more. Some teams are lucky to make the postseason every few years. The Penguins are gonna play in their 11th straight, have won two Stanley Cups, have made the Stanley Cup Final three times, and have made it to the Eastern Conference Final four times. A lot of teams would kill for that kind of postseason record.
It doesn’t feel like that long ago, Penguins fans, myself certainly included, were about to get our taste of playoff hockey again in the Spring of 2007. It was a special feeling.
In that first year coming out of the lockout, in 2005-06, the Penguins were dreadfully bad. They only registered 58 points on the season. Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux played together on the team -- which is a bit of a mind trip to consider that it was 12 years ago. Crosby scored 102 points as an 18-year old rookie, and the next highest scoring forward was Mark Recchi — at a ripe 37-years young at the time, with 57 points. Eddie Olczyk was an unmitigated disaster behind the bench, and that’s putting it lightly.
Michel Therrien took over -- and it didn’t go much better.
We don’t need to dig any further to examine how bad that season was. If you’d like to, feel free, but I’m gonna take a hard pass on walking any further down that lines.
The next season, heading into the 2006-07 season, the Penguins injected some young talent into their lineup — a 20-year old Evgeni Malkin, who made his way over to the NHL from Russia and scored 85 points in his first season in the league.
There was an early scare, when a 37-year old John LeClair collided with Malkin during a preseason game in Moncton, and it resulted in a separated shoulder for the young Russian.
This would not slow down Malkin too much, however. When he made his NHL debut, he quickly found himself making moves that made everyone stop and look.
Jordan Staal made the team as an 18-year old rookie and scored 29 goals, finishing the season with 42 points.
That Penguins team would find lightning in a bottle and finish the season with 105 points, good for almost a fifty point increase from the season before. Sidney Crosby would score 120 points as a 19-year old. Remarkable.
The Penguins were young team and slotted into the playoffs against a veteran Ottawa Senators team who dispatched them quickly in five games, and it was never really close.
That Ottawa team ended up making it to the Stanley Cup Final. They were loaded with talent, from Daniel Alfreddson to Dany Heatley up front, and a defensive machine with players such as Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Wade Redden, and Andrej Meszaros. The Penguins young team really were humbled.
I remember this picture at the time, and thinking “Man. I hope this is one we can remember and look back on as being the start of something special.”
The following year, they would come close to greatness....