Going into the season, Pittsburgh was slated to be one of the best teams in the NHL. In a stacked Metropolitan Division, the Penguins had to fight for every point possible.
It was not easy though. Last season, Pittsburgh fired their coach midway through the season and changed their style of play to match their roster. This resulted in a speedy and tenacious team that flipped their season around.
This season, the Penguins had the right coach and system in place. However, the number of injuries piled up quickly. The Penguins used 39 different players to fill in for all kinds of scenarios. Some of them, like Jake Guentzel, were a revelation and kept the Penguins in the playoff race. Others, like Mark Streit, were acquired at the deadline in case of more injuries. The Penguins managed to finish second in the Metro, despite being the 7th most injured team in the league.
NHL 2016-17 season injury plot. Avalanche ruined the graphic. Something in the water in Vancouver. Capitals had great fortune. pic.twitter.com/RuwU22jC2r
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) April 14, 2017
Pittsburgh hobbled into the playoffs without star defenseman Kris Letang, but that did not stop Sidney Crosby and his island of misfit toys. The Penguins made quick work of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Vezina Trophy candidate Sergei Bobrovsky in five games. Even though they were outshot, Pittsburgh gutted it out.
In the second round, the Penguins nearly blew a 3-1 lead against the Washington Capitals. However, in Game Seven when it mattered most, Pittsburgh found a way to beat Braden Holtby, another Vezina candidate, and a loaded Washington team in D.C. All this despite a Sidney Crosby concussion and a cracked-rib Justin Schultz.
The third round against the Ottawa Senators yielded another seven game series. Playing against a stingy 1-3-1 defensive system, Pittsburgh broke through in double overtime, thanks to a wonky Chris Kunitz shot. As Ottawa General Manager Pierre Dorion articulated, the Senators were also banged up.
Here's the list of 14 Ottawa Senators players that played with injuries vs the Piitsburgh Penguins in 2017 NHL Eastern Conference Finals. pic.twitter.com/m8V43Sl6m4
— "The Game" #31 (@sandropacheco71) June 1, 2017
In the war of attrition, super stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lead the way.
The Stanley Cup Final was a David and Goliath matchup between the 16th seeded Nashville Predators and the 2nd place Penguins. Despite being outshot again through the first two games, the Penguins continued to get fortuitous bounces when it mattered. Nashville tied the series at two, but the Penguins won at home, and managed to steal the deciding game in Nashville. Pittsburgh has won all three of their Stanley Cups on the road during the Crosby era.
So what have we learned about the Penguins these past two seasons?
- They are a dynasty, just like the Blackhawks. Pittsburgh has constructed rosters that work within the confines of the salary cap, season after season. Never doubt their ability to win in the playoffs and get lucky bounces when they need them.
- Mike Sullivan finds a way to get every ounce of energy out of his players. Most coaches cannot coax what the Penguins got out of spare parts during their best game. Sullivan finds ways to mix and match his players to benefit his team, and it paid off with the ultimate prize.
- Crosby and Malkin are unreal. Malkin not named to the Top 100 players over Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews? An absolute disgrace. Malkin shouldered the second line through scoring lurches and rough patches. He has three Stanley Cups and is just behind Crosby in playoff production. Stop underrating him.
- The Penguins will be good for a while. Rookies Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray stepped up big time. Teams are going to have to deal with them for at least another 10 years. Good luck stopping them.