The Pittsburgh Penguins will attempt to make history as they enter the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, which is currently the longest playoff streak in the league.
With that, they have the chance to be the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the Islanders did it in the ’80s. Pittsburgh is again going to be a popular pick to win it all, and here are five reasons why they will make history this season.
5. Their Depth
The Penguins are again a very deep team, especially after they acquired Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators. Brassard has been hurt, but it seems like he’s going to be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, which start on Wednesday. Having lots of center depth is one of the main reasons why Pittsburgh has won the last two seasons. When they can roll out Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan as their centers, there are not many teams who can match that.
When healthy, Phil Kessel, who has the first 90-point season of his career, is the Penguins’ third line right wing centered by Brassard. On a lot of teams, that’s part of a first line. It’s going to be hard for teams to match that line, especially with Conor Sheary playing much better over the last couple weeks. He has three goals in his last four games and scored a highlight reel goal Friday night against the Blue Jackets:
On the fourth line, Pittsburgh can roll out Sheahan with someone such as Zach Aston-Reese who was playing well before his injury and another rookie such as Dominik Simon who hasn’t been bad either. Their top six is already very good with Jake Guentzel playing with Crosby and Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist playing with Malkin. Hornqvist has enjoyed his best season yet with the Penguins, as he’s just shy of 30 goals with 28.
Pittsburgh has players who can score on any line, which is what any cup contender needs going into the playoffs.
4. Kris Letang is back
Pittsburgh won without Kris Letang last season, but the Penguins got just outstanding goaltending coupled with an extraordinary high shooting percentage. The defense was noticeably missing Letang, but now he’s back for this playoff run. It’s been an up-and-down season for Letang, as he hasn’t looked the same at times following his neck surgery.
He’s been the kind of player to make amazing plays with the puck but has looked silly defensively many times too. He showed that against the Columbus Blue Jackets as he had a great shot for a goal but then couldn’t cover Cam Atkinson on a two-against-two in the third period. He also lost Boone Jenner on the power play as Thomas Vanek found him all alone driving to the net and he beat Matt Murray blocker side.
Besides all that, having him back for the playoffs is crucial for Pittsburgh as he’s not just their best defenseman, but one of the best defenseman in the league when he’s on top of his game. If he can get back to the level of play that he had in the Penguins’ 2016 run, he’s going to be a major difference-maker.
3. The power play
Teams usually get fewer power plays in the playoffs because the officials seem to swallow their whistles, so that means the Penguins will have to make their opportunities count. Luckily for them, they’ve had the league’s best power play all year long. It’s clicking at 26.4 percent this season, and the way they run it just isn’t fair to other teams. It’s almost impossible to defend and it saved the Penguins early in the season and has continued to be great for them.
Goaltenders can’t see the puck at times because Patric Hornqvist is doing his best Tomas Holmstrom impression in front of the net, which allows players such as Kessel and Malkin to rip their bullets right past goaltenders. The movement is also just a sight to behold since they go so quickly and get so many good looks each game.
Whatever teams they play, they can’t take penalties against the Penguins because they’ll just burn them with their power play.
2. Money Matt Murray
It’s been an emotional season, to say the least, for Matt Murray. He’s battled through multiple injuries and lost his father earlier in the season. He, of course, would want nothing more than to win this championship for him and it starts by playing well in the postseason. Murray only has a .907 save percentage in 49 games this season after being .923 last season and .930 the year before. In the playoffs though, he turns up his game to another level and Pittsburgh will need that if they are to do it again.
In the playoffs, Murray has a .928 career save percentage over two playoff runs which is awesome. He had back-to-back shutouts against the Predators in Games 5 and 6 to help the Penguins win again last season. He came in relief of Marc-Andre Fleury after he struggled in Game 3 against the Ottawa Senators and he never looked back. He won seven games and posted a .937 save percentage, which is almost Tim Thomas-level good from 2011.
Lately, he’s being giving up some not-so-good goals, especially when he allowed a bad first goal to Zach Werenski as the puck snuck past his pad when it looked like there was no room. In big games though, Murray has shown the ability to rise to the occasion and he will have to do it again in these playoffs.
1. Mike Sullivan
It may seem strange to include the Penguins coach here, but it’s true. Sullivan is one of the biggest reasons why no team has beaten the Penguins the past two years. His ability to adjust when the team is facing elimination or even down in a series is second-to-none, and every button he pushes works. Whether it’s tweaking his system or making a couple lineup changes, it’s worked and the Penguins have played their best hockey in the playoffs after they lose a game.
He has such a strong control over the Penguins that just wasn’t there when they were being coached by Dan Bylsma or Mike Johnston. Byslma never adjusted in a playoff series and it was the beginning of his end in Pittsburgh. Sullivan pushes all the right buttons and even when he does make a mistake at times, he goes and corrects it.
If a team wants to beat the Penguins, they will have to outsmart Sullivan which has proven to be very tough for the opposition.