Penguins’ Start Makes Cup Repeat Possible

The Penguins are already one of the six NHL teams that have managed to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. Are they on track to pull off a repeat again this year?

Season Start by the Stats

At this point last year, the Penguins were off to a slow start. Ranked 19th in the league by points, they weren’t leading anything; not the Metropolitan Division, and certainly not the league. It was up in the air at that point whether or not they were even playoffs bound.

The 2016-17 Penguins look a little different. After Saturday’s win against the Flyers, they are currently ranked third in the league in points and fourth in the overall standings. They are ahead of last year’s President Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, to stand on top of the current Metropolitan Division rankings. They’ve won six of their first nine games, and pushed one of those three losses to overtime.

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To put that into perspective, the last team to repeat a Stanley Cup win two years in a row — the Detroit Red Wings, with back-to-back wins in 1997 and 1998 — was also third in the league in points at this point in the year in 1998. A strong start isn’t a guarantee for a successful season, but it shows at the very least that the team has the ability to be a strong contender.

A Good Place to Start the Season

The fact that the Penguins are starting near the top of the league a month into the season reflects a few good things for Pittsburgh.

It shows that the positive changes that came along with the hiring of new coach Mike Sullivan midway through last season are still working for the Penguins. The mid-season acquisitions of players like Carl Hagelin, part of the recently reunited HBK line, are still working. The mid-season call-ups of players from the minor leagues like Sheary, Rust and Murray, who all had their NHL debuts in December 2015 when the Penguins started to shake things up, continue to serve the team well.

Along with these relatively new additions to the lineup, star players like Sidney Crosby (currently averaging 1.33 points per game) are producing points; Crosby has been consistently producing in regular season games dating all the way back to February this year. In early 2015, Crosby was off to a slow start that had people theorizing by December that maybe it was time for the Penguins to just trade him already.

Penguins’ players are producing from the star players down. This is a very different quality from the Penguins team of early 2015.

The Penguins owe their top spot in the rankings to a nearly unchanged roster from their championship team. General manager Jim Rutherford spoke at the Penguins Fan Fest earlier this month about how players worked with him to stay on the roster; team members like Justin Schultz, another mid-season acquisition, took lower salaries than they could have gotten elsewhere in order to stay in Pittsburgh. This cooperation between players as well as smart moves from the GM have kept Pittsburgh on top of the division.

Pittsburgh is off to a good start. Luck and injuries allowing (get well soon, Kris Letang) this first month may be the beginning to a league-topping season.