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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Crosby Who?

Having Sidney Crosby back in the Penguins lineup undoubtedly makes them a major threat in the postseason, they're coming off an 11 game win streak (9 of those without Crosby) Which makes you wonder - is Crosby all that crucial to the Penguins? I heard an interesting quote on Sportscentre a couple mornings ago; "The Penguins getting Crosby back, is like Bill Gates winning the lottery!" It's nice but not needed. It feels weird saying the Penguins don't need perhaps the best NHL star since Wayne Gretzky, but thanks to a couple underdogs stepping up to the plate, Crosby is now just another offensive weapon that the Penguins can unleash on their opponents.

Crosby is Back
You honestly can't talk about the Penguins without mentioning Sidney Crosby, Trust me this blog is more about how the Pens don't need him this season. But you can't not mention the Leagues best player.
Crosby is back from a 3 month layoff, he's played 4 games (Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Jets). During those four games Crosby has collected 9 assists, and has helped bring the Penguins within 1 point of the Eastern Conference leading Rangers. Last night against the Jets Crosby had 4 assists alone, he seems to be able to dish the puck, but when's he going to score a goal? Good news for the NHL and hockey fans everywhere, Sid the Kid is back!

Four Players who stepped up
The Penguins have won 44 games this season the majority of those with Crosby, so there obviously the Penguins have had players step up and play a bigger role on the team; Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Matt Cooke are a few of the players that have really changed their game this season.

Evgeni Malkin
You can't say enough about the play of Malkin this season in the absence of Crosby, right now this is Malkin's team. He single handily took it upon himself to put the team on his back, and proved a lot of critics wrong. I didn't think Malkin was capable of leading this Penguins team without Crosby helping, but he's really stepped up and out of the shadows to lead this team. He is hands down the MVP of the Penguins season and leading a candidate for the Hart trophy, personally I think he's a shoe in for the Hart trophy after everything he's done for the Pens. He's also in the hunt and currently leading the race for the Art Ross trophy. In 64 games Malkin has scored 43 goals and added 50 assists to make 93 points on the season, giving him the league lead in points. Malkin has been amazing in the midst of this playoff hunt (even though the Pens are in the playoffs) and arguably in the toughest division in the league, he's been on fire and consistent all year long.
Malkin's dominance started during the beginning of December, in 47 games since he started scoring goals like it was his day job; 34 goals and 86 points, and in no coincidence the Penguins have won 30 of those games. No question that Malkin has been an important part, if not the most important part of this team, and I really hope fans don't just forget what he's done for this team, just because Crosby is back. This Penguins team in under Malkin's control this season, if I had a vote for MVP it would go to Malkin. It's just amazing what he's been able to do, he proved me and other critics wrong and I tip my hat to him!
Last night against the Jets, Malkin scored his 200th career goal and was showered with "MVP" chants during the game.

Kris Letang
Letang is an underrated player in the league and on the Penguins, he's one of my favorite defenceman. I love the way he plays the game, the leadership and how crucial he is to the Penguins yet still flies under the radar to most.  I remember watching Sportscenter and hearing them talk about how great Crosby will be for the Penguins in the playoffs, but one of the analysts piped up and said; "I think it would be a worse case scenario for the Penguins if Letang was unavailable for the playoffs rather than Crosby being unavailable." That speaks volumes to me, Letang being more valuable to the Penguins than Crosby, that's remarkable. It's been a rough season for Letang, who like Crosby has suffered through concussions, Letang returned from his second concussion the same night Crosby returned, but unlike his teammate Letang's return lacked press, media attention and his own camera on game night. In Letang's return, he played 24 minutes, and had a career high +5 in the game not bad considering he hadn't put on a jersey since February! Before his first concussion back in November 2011, Letang was a front runner for the Norris trophy; averaging 25 minutes a night, 32 points and 3 game winning goals in just 41 games. Letang was added to the 2012 all star game as a replacement, despite only playing 26 games. In the 2010-2011 season he was the Penguins 2nd leading scorer behind only Crosby with 50 points.
Kris Letang has quite the resume; already a Stanley Cup winner, 2 time all star, and a 2 time gold medal winner at the world juniors, the 62nd pick in the 2005 draft has made quite the name for himself. He was also named the Penguins rookie of the year in 2007-2008, in 299 career NHL games, Letang has 29 goals and 100 assists for 129 points (not including this season). The future is bright for the 24 year old Penguins defencman, and the Penguins are lucky to have this guy anchoring their blue line.

James Neal
This kid has come out of nowhere, early on in the season when he was turning kids I admit I hadn't heard of so I had to go look him up. After a hat trick in the game last night against the Jets, Neal has 35 goals which puts him 4th in the league! Add on his 37 assists, and he's got 72 points this season, far above his totals with the Dallas Stars and he's still got some games to add on to his totals! The way James Neal has stepped up during the absence of Crosby is scary good, if he can do the majority of his scoring without Sid around, what can he do with him around?
Due to his amazing play this season, which has resulted in career high for Neal, the Penguins resigned him for 6 years at $5 million a year. Neal has showed great leadership on the Pens this season, and is now one of the top go to players this season. With 70 points this season, Neal becomes the first Penguins winger to score 70 points since 2001-2002.
It's quite funny actually, although Neal had a hat trick and an assist last night against the Jets, all anyone wants to talk about is Sidney Crosby's 4 points last night.

Matt Cooke
The guy they call Cookie, was, at one point in his 11 year NHL career one of the most feared NHL players. Not because of goal scoring ability but because of his questionable hits that have left players concussed and even ended careers.  In those 11 NHL seasons between the Canucks, Capitals and Penguins he has racked up 988 penalty points! His worst year being 2010-2011 where he had 129 penalty minutes and really hurt his team with his suspensions. But something has clicked in Cooke's head and he's changed his game around, I won't get into it all as it'll be in a later blog, but Cooke's transformation is incredible, he's even set a career highs with 16 goals and will likely set a career high in points by the end of the season. But what's most remarkable is the fact he has just 30 penalty minutes this season an all time low! By playing cleaner, less dirty hockey he's helping his team by staying out of the box (both penalty and press) and staying on the ice and contributing in a positive way.

The Penguins are definitely happy to have their star player back, but it wasn't like they were desperate to have Crosby back. They had several players stepping up and putting points on the board, they're in the playoff picture and just 1 point back of first, something tells me they would have been fine without Crosby.
With the Penguins having Crosby, Malkin, Letang Staal and several other players in their lineup it's almost an unfair advantage to their opponents. So now that the Penguins have Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Cooke, Staal, Letang does this make the Penguins Stanley Cup favorites?
This blog was to remind people about some of the role players who have stepped up during Sidney's absence, let's not forget the people who have stepped up and carried this Penguins team. Just because Crosby's back doesn't mean we should forget their contribution!

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