Recently, the NHL Network featured a recap of the Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup. You could say I’m being a bit nostalgic, but the program reminded me of something.
The 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins are still an incredibly special team.
There is a tendency to compare great teams to those of the past. But last season’s run was amazingly unique, played within a revolutionary system, by players perfectly suited to execute it. It would be a bit much to expect the Penguins to recapture that same experience in the early stages of a new season, and there have definitely been a few instances of some pretty flat, disinterested hockey. But they continue to show us that when they are on their game, there are few teams that can match them.
Crosby & Co.
With each game since returning, Sidney Crosby is adding to his legend. In three games, he has scored four goals and five points, while driving play with a 52.99 Corsi For percentage. He has clearly energized his team with important goals, and by simply playing his intense style of hockey. All of this after finishing up his NHL season in June, playing in the World Cup, and recovering from a concussion.
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 30, 2016
Patric Hornqvist continues to play a blue-collar, Pittsburgh brand of hockey, leaving his heart and soul on the ice every night. One has to wonder if he could play linebacker for the Steelers as well?
Matt Cullen just turned 40, and has been one of, if not the, best players on the team thus far. Evgeni Malkin leads the team with 10 points, despite spending a significant portion of his time in the penalty box. Phil Kessel has nine points in nine games. Scott Wilson may be blossoming into the player that he was becoming last season prior to injury. Tom Kuhnhackl and Eric Fehr are playing an increasingly valuable role both offensively and defensively.
There are other players that will eventually start putting up points such as Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Conor Sheary (when he returns from injury). Not to mention the youngsters waiting for their opportunity in the minors like Jake Guentzel, Oskar Sundqvist, Carter Rowney and possibly Daniel Sprong later in the season.
Blue Line and Beyond Face Unique Adversity
The Pittsburgh defense has struggled at times in the early going, but will find its way. Justin Schultz is improving upon his first season in Pittsburgh. Kris Letang will soon return from injury, and lead his group to better things. The biggest challenge that the defense may face is adjusting to other teams. Opponents have learned to counter the aggressiveness of the Penguins’ blueliners.
Also, you have to feel bad for Brian Dumoulin, as he has taken quite the beating with both pucks and sticks.
Dumoulin heads down the runway with a slight limp.
— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) October 25, 2016
Dumoulin was just struck in the face. Heads to dressing room.
— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) October 25, 2016
Let’s not forget the Penguins’ goalies, no matter how volatile of a situation it may be. Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray may be the best tandem in the NHL, the only question is for how long?
Despite some sloppy, undisciplined hockey, the Penguins are 6-2-1 on the season, and appear to be gaining steam. It has been far from perfect, and there will be roadblocks, but there is little question that Pittsburgh is on the right path. Coach Mike Sullivan will solve the discipline issues, and adjust his gameplan accordingly in a way that his predecessors could, or would not.
Not Just a Team, But a Family
The NHL Network’s program gave us a rare look into the locker room, and thoughts of an eventual championship team. How it all came together was amazing. Crosby’s leadership has evolved into something truly special. Players that underachieved during their careers found a home in Pittsburgh and were able to flourish. Maybe most importantly, the organization finally embraced their young players and created a group that seemed unstoppable.
One is from Canada.
One is from Russia.
Both play for The Pittsburgh Penguins.
We are blessed. pic.twitter.com/V9cb1AfLId
— #BurghProud (@taylastivka) October 30, 2016
The scary thing is that with the roster remaining virtually intact, and having experienced the highest level of success, they may just end up being better this year. From the star players, clear down to Wilkes-Barre, this team is incredibly talented and deep. Combine that with an amazing coaching staff, and a proven management group, it’s hard not to be excited.
Here is a question that says it all: when the trade deadline comes around, what do the Penguins’ need to acquire? I honestly can’t think of anything. Maybe some defensive help if Olli Maatta is still struggling, but even that is a toss-up.
This is a special group on and off the ice. Enjoy it folks, you are not likely to see a team like this again any time soon.
Until next time.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.