How good are the Pens?

27Mar07

Don’t look now, but Sidney Crosby‘s Pittsburgh Penguins have the New Jersey Devils just a tad bit worried about their lock on the Atlantic Division title. While teams like the Rangers and Islanders are still kicking and screaming just to get into the playoffs, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (and Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Whitney) have turned around the Penguins faster than you can say Ovechkin.

If you look at the Pens record as it stands today, it’s good but not stellar: 43-23-10, or 10 games above .500 if you count the NHL’s “loser point” as a true loss. What’s most remarkable about the Penguins, though, is the way they’ve played since January.

In the calendar year of 2006, the Pens were actually below .500 with a 16-15-6 record (again, counting the extra point as a loss). Since then, the Penguins have been one of the league’s hottest, most consistent teams, going 27-8-4.

Part of this is the overall defensive stability that the team has finally gotten down. The other part of this is that the team has become so strong and so creative up front that other teams can’t shut them down completely. Stop Crosby and you have to deal with Malkin. Get a power play and Jordan Staal might burn you shorthanded. Cover down low and Sergei Gonchar can unleash a bomb from the point.

So that begs the question — just how good are these young Penguins? Just for posterity’s sake, let’s look at another young team that hovered around .500 in 2003 before turning it on in 2004. The pre-Cup championship Lightning went 15-13-7 and flirted with non-playoff status in 2003 before going nuts and going 31-8-7 the rest of the way.

Now, I’m not saying that the Penguins can mirror the Lightning’s Cup run. There’s just too many variables before anyone can try and predicate that. But the Pens 2007 record shows that teams really need to fear them — and that with a little luck, they’re good enough to make anything possible.

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