Monday, April 09, 2007

Penguins Regular Season Wrap Up...

The Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished more this season than anyone could have imagined. They have qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2000-01 and flirted with winning their division until the final week of the season.

The Penguins finished the year with 105 points, which represents a 47-point improvement on the 58 they accumulated last season. That turnaround is the 4th highest in league history; it also makes them only the sixth team in NHL history to improve by over 40 points from one season to the next.

The season has been exciting from the initial drop of the puck when the Penguins shut out their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-0 in their home opener. That also marked the first of 8 consecutive wins against the Flyers, something that the Flightless Bird had never done before. We were all given a chance to witness the Evolution and emergence of the assets acquired during the past 6 years of losing. Most of the stories have been nothing short of amazing.

One of the greatest moments of the season occurred on March 13, 2007. That was the day that we all officially learned that a deal had been struck to keep the Pittsburgh Penguins here where they belong. That night will be one of the fondest memories for a lot of Penguins fans and should rank along side the franchises Stanley Cup victories.

The Players

It was a great statistical season for most of the players who pulled on a Black and Vegas Gold sweater. The team produced:

- 2 players with at least 30 goals
- 5 players with at least 20 goals
- 11 players with at least 10 goals
- 5 players with at least 10 power play goals
- 7 players with at least 40 points
- 15 players with an Even or better +/- rating

These statistics pretty much debunk the thinking that the team didn't have enough scoring from the wingers and bodes very well for the future.

Here are some of the great accomplishments we witnessed from Penguin players this season.

Sidney Crosby

Of course any list that talks about Penguin accomplishments has to begin with Sidney Crosby. This young man has truly elevated himself to elite status in the National Hockey league. Crosby put up 6 points on December 13th against the Philadelphia Flyers to put himself ahead in the NHL scoring race and hasn't looked back since. He fended off charges by both Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier to capture the first Art Ross Trophy of his career, making him the youngest winner in league history. He was the youngest player in history to hit 200 points in a career and his 2-season total of 222 is the 5th highest for any player during their first two seasons in the league. Crosby also earned his first Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year award, a prestigious award in the city of Pittsburgh. The sky is the limit for this young man and he is only 19. Imagine Crosby in his prime...

Evegni Malkin

After what can only be described as a cloak and dagger affair to get this young man into a Penguin uniform, he did not disappoint. Malkin missed the first four games of the season after suffering a separated shoulder during training camp in a collision with John LeClair, but started the season strong. He set a NHL record by scoring goals in his first 6 career games, finishing the season with 33. Malkin was named Rookie of the Month for October and November, only the second rookie to capture the award in consecutive months to start a career. Malkin is the leading candidate to win the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year. Malkin leads all rookies in almost every category including: Goals, Assists, Points, Shots, PP Points, PP Assists, and he is tied for Game Winning Goals with 6. This young man is pure talent and should be even more amazing as he gets completely comfortable with the North American game.

Jordan Staal

It blows my mind to think that we were all discussing sending this young man back to Peterborough after his initial 9 game cup of coffee in the league. I am sure glad that we were all wrong. Jordan Staal was probably the Penguin's best defensive player throughout the season and showed a goal scoring touch that most didn't know he had developed yet. Staal led all NHL players with a shooting % of 22.1. Staal was able to set two NHL rookie records during a great freshman season. The first by scoring 7 short handed goals, the second by becoming the youngest player in league history to record a hat trick (18 years, 153 days). Staal finished the campaign with 29 goals and 13 assists and could get himself on the ballot for Rookie of the Year. He is a huge kid and could end up being a monster, the likes of Todd Bertuzzi, once he fills out.

Marc Andre Fleury

MA or the Flower as his teammates call him finally got the chance to be the number one guy in Pittsburgh and he didn't disappoint. Fleury's 40 wins rank him second in team history and make him the first Penguin goaltender to record at least 40 wins since Tom Barrasso set the team record with 43 back in 92-93. MA also posted 5 shut outs and set career highs in most statistical categories. Fleury is quickly becoming a franchise goaltender, just as the team envisioned when they took him first overall back in 2003. This young man is as competitive as they come and hates to lose...he will be a future Vezina winner in this league.

Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney

The Penguins have not boasted two point men of this pedigree since the days of Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy. The two combined for 27 goals and 126 points. Gonchar could find himself getting some darkhorse consideration for the Norris Trophy based on his scoring total and Whitney should be a contender in the near future. These two are vital to the Penguins breakout, especially Whitney, who seems to always make a great first pass out of the zone. The Penguins forwards definitely benefit from having these two on the blue line. Both should be here for at least the next three years.

The Veterans

Mark Recchi sipped from the fountain of youth this season while playing on a line with Sidney Crosby. He provided great leadership and scored some big goals in helping this young team learn how to win. All of the BS that was going on last season went right out the window and Recchi was a model citizen and teammate, helping the young players along in every situation.

Gary Roberts joined the team at the trade deadline and has been nothing short of phenomenal. He brings everything that a team going to the playoffs needs to be successful. Toughness, scoring and above all - Leadership. He has been a great teammate and has scored some big goals in his short time here. The team feeds off of his wolverine-like demeanor and also gets energized by his physical play. He will have a lot to do with any success that the team has in the playoffs.

The Role Players

These guys have been the unsung heroes of the team this season. There are not enough words to describe their contributions. Max Talbot and Jarkko Ruutu have been textbook 3rd and 4th line energy guys all season long. They have played defense in tough situations, killed penalties, agitated the other team and stood up for teammates. They have combined for 20 goals and 30 points, something that probably wasn't expected of them when the season began. These two are not alone...they are joined by the newly acquired Georges Laraque, Colby Armstrong, and Ronald Petrovicky.

The Rest of the Team

The team has gotten contributions from up and down the line-up and everyone has filled a role for the Penguins. Ray Shero wanted to build a team that would not make just one run, but compete for years to come and that is exactly what he did. He has decent depth at all positions on the ice, at least at the NHL level. The defensemen have overachieved to some extent and they will have to be strong during the playoffs for the team to be successful.

The Penguins regular season has been nothing short of amazing and the playoffs are gravy at this point. Though the team has a good opportunity to make a run at a Stanley Cup this season, this playoff year will most likely go down as a great learning experience.

This year can already be considered a success and the future is very bright. The March of the Penguins continues into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and beyond...the years of waiting have paid off Penguin fans get ready for the ride!


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