It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Pittsburgh Penguins
Holding a 3-1 series lead, only to see it slip away, is a tough way to end the season. Adding offensive woes and an anemic power play to the equation makes matters worse. But the 2010/11 Pittsburgh Penguins had some tough breaks throughout the season, which put a cap on how far they could realistically go. Expect them to return to normal next season.
The absence of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was paralyzing to the team’s offense. Crosby participated in on-ice workouts on a semi-regular basis towards the end of the year; as long as he keeps progressing, he will be ready for the start of the new season. Meanwhile, Malkin’s rehab schedule from a torn ACL and MCL has him on track to be back before training camp.
Getting these two game-breakers will obviously re-ignite an offense that struggled mightily without their services. The team scored a goal less per game, on average, without them in the lineup, further proving Crosby and Malkin are irreplaceable.
Before Crosby went down with his concussion at the halfway mark, the Penguins were the NHL’s best. (Consider this: Jordan Staal didn’t even return until January.) Crosby put up unreal numbers in 41 games – 32 goals and 66 points – and was the runaway MVP favorite at that point in the season. He was on pace for 132 points, which is unheard of nowadays.
The job that Head Coach Dan Bylsma did to keep his team afloat cannot be commended enough. At times, Bylsma had the likes of Brett Sterling and Dustin Jeffrey on the top line as half of the Wilkes Barre-Scranton AHL club was in Pittsburgh. Bylsma should be the winner of the Jack Adams at June’s NHL Awards.
Something that the team has to look forward to for next year is a full season of James Neal. He didn’t have the best first impression in Pittsburgh, tallying 8 points in 27 games (including the playoffs) after coming over from Dallas. However, Neal has the potential to be much better next season with Crosby dishing the puck his way.
The back end will remain intact, which can only be a good thing. The top four of Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin is really solid, while Marc-Andre Fleury carried the team to a playoff berth amidst the never-ending injuries.
A good portion of Pittsburgh’s depth up front is set to hit the free agent market this summer. The list includes Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy (RFA) and Arron Asham, among others.
GM Ray Shero can’t realistically bring everyone back, considering he’ll be up against the cap and may have to turn to rookies if he wishes to find another upgrade at wing in the off-season. I would guess Shero will do everything he can to retain Talbot and Kennedy, while veterans Alex Kovalev and Mike Comrie will be exiting stage left.
No matter what Shero does with the depth, this Penguins team is going to be stronger next year if they can remain healthy. The new faces will have a year under their belt in Bylsma’s system, while the return of Crosby and Malkin will make the offense relevant again.
Though the spirits aren’t high in the Steel City right now after their playoff loss to Tampa Bay, the Pens will be back and better than ever next season.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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