KOL Season’s Greetings II: Pittsburgh

By Adam Vingan

Something was missing from last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins. And despite the video above, it was not testosterone.

It’s pretty obvious what – or rather who – it was. Sidney Crosby made an impact in the first half of the season, but missed the entire second half with a concussion. It’s not often when a team’s top three players – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to be exact – miss significant parts of the season, but it was Pittsburgh’s reality. A playoff choke of their own knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs, but that was just a temporary aberration. The Penguins will return in 2011-12.

Save The Date (season matchups): October 13 in Pittsburgh; December 1 in Washington; January 11 in Washington; January 22 in Pittsburgh.

Stocking Stuffers (notable additions): F Steve Sullivan (free agency via Nashville); F Steve MacIntyre (free agency via Edmonton); F Jason Williams (free agency via Dallas); D Alexandre Picard (free agency via Montreal); D Boris Valabik (free agency via Atlanta/Winnipeg).

Gift Receipts (notable subtractions): F Maxime Talbot (signed with Philadelphia); F Mike Rupp (signed with New York Rangers); F Chris Conner (signed with Detroit); F Alex Kovalev (KHL); F Mike Comrie; F Eric Godard (signed with Dallas).

Ghosts Of Christmas Past (last season): 49-25-8 – second in Atlantic Division – fourth in Eastern Conference.

The Penguins began the season in neutral. First, Pittsburgh opened its new arena, Consol Energy Center, with losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens. A 6-5-1 October gave way to a 19-6-2 November and December, punctuated by a 12-game winning streak. Despite the fact that they cannot fly, the Penguins were doing just that and had the best part of their season chronicled opposite the Washington Capitals’ eight-game losing streak on HBO’s “24/7.”

Meanwhile, Crosby added to his litany of personal accomplishments with a 25-game point streak (tied for the 11th-longest in NHL history) that lasted from early November to late December. In 25 games, Crosby scored 27 goals (including three hat tricks) and 24 assists. Then the bottom dropped out. Crosby suffered a concussion during a collision with David Steckel in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic. In the following game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Victor Hedman caught Crosby with yet another devastating hit and he did not return for the final 41 games of the season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Crosby, however, was not the only Penguins star to miss considerable time with an injury. Staal missed the first 40 games of the season after offseason hand surgery and made his debut in the Winter Classic.  Malkin tore both his ACL and MCL February 4 and also missed the rest of the season. Pittsburgh’s best three players only appeared in the same game twice – the Winter Classic and the subsequent game against the Lightning.

Pittsburgh remained undaunted and finished the second half of the season with a 23-13-5 record, barely missed winning the Atlantic Division and earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, an impressive feat that earned head coach Dan Bylsma the Jack Adams Award as best coach. In the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Penguins met the Lightning and held a 3-1 lead, but could not close out the series and lost in seven games.

Wish List (season outlook): It would be fair to place Crosby and Malkin in the “notable additions” section because their respective returns will only make the Penguins more dangerous than they proved to be without them last season. Crosby set a NHL record for fewest games played by a team’s leading scorer. Kris Letang had a breakout year with 50 points in 82 games, while Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and trade deadline acquisition James Neal did their best to keep the Penguins’ offense moving without two of their biggest playmakers.

The Penguins return the core of their team (essentially their entire team, really) with the biggest subtractions being Talbot and Rupp, who were known more for their grit and personalities. Sullivan will try to return to his pre-injury form by playing on a line with either Crosby or Malkin. Before sitting out the entire 2007-08 season with a back injury, Sullivan was one of the NHL’s most consistent scorers. Don’t forget Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson, who remain steady as one of the NHL’s best goaltending tandems. Everything is in place for the Penguins to once again reign supreme on top of the NHL. It’s just a matter of time before they reassert themselves.

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Filed under Capitals, NHL, NHL Offseason, Season Preview

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