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Final Cup Thoughts: What the Penguins Can Learn & Changing the Game

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby Nathan MacKinnon Photos From IconSportsWire

It is over. In the coming hours, we will turn the page from “this season” to “last season.” We will begin looking ahead to the 2022 NHL Draft, free agency, and training camp. We’ll begin looking at the 2023 Stanley Cup, and the Colorado Avalanche are already 4/1 favorites. Nathan MacKinnon will be forcing Sidney Crosby to finish the cooler of beer, and it will be MacKinnon who gets to float the Cup in the lakes near Cole Harbour. We will also ask the most crucial question: What can the Pittsburgh Penguins learn from the Stanley Cup Final?

It was a fantastic NHL playoffs. The hockey level was better than the sloppy, interference-filled playoffs last season. Connor McDavid finally established himself on the big stage because officials didn’t allow opponents to water ski behind him or tackle him. The New York Rangers played the bad guy as Jacob Trouba took heads when the referee was always conveniently distracted. The veteran champion eventually put down the bad guy before the new babyface wowed crowds and won the title.

The NHL MUST TAKE HEADSHOTS MORE SERIOUSLY.

The league’s shrug and a wave response to Trouba’s inexplicably unpunished but blatant attempts to hurt opponents was ugliness these beautiful playoffs did not need. In fact, these playoffs may have been the best in decades. The quality of hockey and speed displayed allowed the best players to be the stars they are.

It was a much-needed and welcome change from last year. A team like the slogging 2021 Montreal Canadiens nor the clutch and grab 2021 New York Islanders should never be allowed to prosper with those obstruction tactics.

What Can the Pittsburgh Penguins Learn?

The Tampa Bay Lightning got by with a few things the Penguins have: Talent. Goaltending. Depth.

Well, the Penguins had talent, anyway. Beyond their top line, we’ll see who gets a sweater next year.

We’ll skip the softer Atlantic Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, and lesser Boston Bruins. Tampa Bay does have some weaknesses, which the Avalanche exploited. Speed was the chief difference. As Tampa Bay tried to grind Colorado and win the low battles, Colorado could run Tampa Bay out of the building; they got every loose puck and were in a defensive position to protect their goalie.

The Penguins have speed.

Colorado not only significantly outskated Tampa Bay but showed superior depth, including on the blue line. Look at Colorado’s second line. Nazem Kadri scored 87 points in the middle. Power forward Gabriel Landeskog was on the left and Valeri Nichushkin on the right. Nichushkin had a career resurgence with 21 goals.

Colorado also had a more dynamic offensive output from its third and fourth lines.

In addition to Cale Makar’s 86 points, Devan Toews scored 57 points (13-44-57). Bo Byram had 17 points in 30 games. Even defensive defenseman Erik Johnson had eight goals.

The increased depth of scoring makes all of the difference. Colorado also had enough speed to keep Tampa Bay away from the leaky Darcy Kuemper.

What can the Penguins learn? More offensive talent on the blue line. More goals from the bottom six. As much as PHN appreciated the work of Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, and others, the Penguins’ bottom six could be better.

Goaltending

The Avalanche won the Stanley Cup with the worst goaltending since… Christobal Huet and Antti Niemi won the 2010 Cup with Chicago?

Certainly, Penguins goalie Matt Murray’s career following the 2017 Cup does not stand out, either.

Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper will be a UFA this summer, and it’s hard to see GMs throwing top-dollar contracts at him despite being the Stanley Cup-winning goalie. He may have done more damage than good to his value.

 Changing the NHL

The NHL took a big step forward by allowing star players to be star players in the playoffs. But the game is changing. It is exploding in so many good ways. The talent and skill of down-line players are greater than they have ever been.

Five years ago, the Penguins won their second-consecutive Stanley Cup. Colorado was fresh from being the worst team in the NHL. They began a rebuild from the ground up, and…look at the results. The team they built is very much in the mold of the 2016 Penguins, which triumphantly ushered in the era of speed.

Everyone was trying to catch the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Credit Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford for constructing a Penguins team led by Sidney Crosby that was literally and figuratively a step ahead of the game. In 10 years, we may look back at the dawning era with McDavid, MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews and call it another golden age. But don’t forget who first set the stage and changed the game.

That MacKinnon is a Sidney Crosby disciple only underscores the point.

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charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
1 month ago

What a great read…

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

Kuemper outplayed The Greatest Goalie Who Ever Played in four of the six games. He also set up the biggest goal of the series in Game 4 on the road. His regular season-postseason record this season: 47-14-4. Sakic is too smart not to re-sign him unless the price is exorbitant.

Pete
Pete
1 month ago

Correction. The Pens HAD speed. They haven’t out-skated a team in the playoffs since their last cup.

bbh
bbh
1 month ago
Reply to  Pete

do you even watch hockey? the pens have outskated every team in the playoffs with maybe an exception for the Capitals. They skated Shersterkin out of 2 games. Career AHL journeyman are in that position for a reason. Louis was a great story, but his 15 minutes ran out and the return of injured Jarry wasn’t quite enough. At least the Rangers tried to skate with the Pens unlike the Isles and Habs with their 0-5 forecheck. waterski, goalie makes 50 saves “systems”.

Fredrick
Fredrick
1 month ago

Things the Penguins learned: the refs don’t call head shots so do them at will! Seriously as was written in a previous blog. Protect your superstars/players from head shots. Hopefully a new rule is made especially with the continued obvious targeting that Trouba did this playoffs needs to be addressed. He should have been suspended for the rest of the playoffs after his second head shot.

René
René
1 month ago

My strategy

  1. Must trade or buy out Zucker and Petterson/ Doumalin.
  2. Resign Letang 3-4 years at $8m
  3. Resign Geno for 3 years at $6-7 or let him walk. if he stays move him to LW
  4. Find a two way 2nd line center with speed
  5. Bring PO Joseph up with the big boys
  6. In Ruhwedel we trust. He deserves the top 6 job.
  7. Make an offer to Rakell and Rodrigues
  8. Free the young guys, O’Connor, Zahorna, Nylander and Poulin
  9. Find a back-up goalie
daniel
daniel
1 month ago
Reply to  René

dang, that is exactly what i was thinking on every point.

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 month ago
Reply to  René

The Pens won’t trade either guy cause nobody wants either guy and buying them out will only cause more problems than solutions. Tanger ain’t coming back for a 3-4 year deal he wants 5. If the keep Geno he’s not moving to wing so any fan who says that or thinks that obviously has a limited grasp of Hockey Knowledge. The young guys should get a chance but Sully doesn’t trust them. POJ has a problem being aggressive in his game. As far as backup Goalie goes:Resign CDS.

Last edited 1 month ago by Vittorio
Frank
Frank
1 month ago

One item that is being overlooked in the “lessons learned” points of the article is that youth will be served. Colorado ran Tampa into the ground. In the 3rd period of an elimination game on their home ice the Bolts could only manage 4 shots. The Avalanche simply ran over and consistently out raced the Tampa “core.” Sound familiar? The Avalanche as a team is about a year younger than Tampa and Pittsburgh. They also come in . .. on average 15 pounds heavier . . than both teams. If you go on the basis that the Penguin core is… Read more »

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Frank, Thank God, great response to a good article. Love to read some of Dan’s articles but stunned at these Yinzers! See some at both Pens and Steelers games. Frustrated to hear how Letang and Malkin have to be resigned. Why? To win? This team can’t win. Pens are old, soft, small and I questioned their conditioning program. You bump into some of these players, they miss a couple weeks. Rangers are loaded with young talent. We need to get younger and bigger. Our Defensive Unit is a joke. Avs are big and can skate. Our 3rd and 4th lines… Read more »

Cal
Cal
1 month ago

Dan I couldn’t agree more on headshots. I love hard hitting hockey. I love watching fights in hockey between two willing participants. But the crap that Trouba and others are doing is a huge turnoff to watch. Everyone knows it’s wrong. Those acts are potential career ending , it dosent make sense. I like to compare it to other sports if star players were taken out because of blatant violent shots to star players. It probably wouldn’t go over well with the league, fans, and people who have money invested in them. Lost a lot of respect for some players… Read more »

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 month ago
Reply to  Cal

It’s simple Cal and for everybody else: The NHL doesn’t care about player safety. Bettman and Parros want to see headshots cause they want to eliminate skill and bring back thuggery and goonery to the league. Now if you say that to those 2 guys they will deny it to your face. So it boils down to this: If the NHL doesn’t care or has decided to look the other way then for the Pens they must sign Thug or Goon type players and go headhunting themselves.

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