Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt Behind Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins Should Make Plenty of Noise in the Postseason. If Sidney Crosby Returns, They Will Be a Favorite to Win the Stanley Cup

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt Behind Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins Should Make Plenty of Noise in the Postseason. If Sidney Crosby Returns, They Will Be a Favorite to Win the Stanley Cup

Article excerpt

Since the Penguins' six-game losing streak ended in mid-January, the team is on a 15-4-1 roll. It went 9-3 against opponents with a winning record during that stretch. It beat the Eastern Conference's best -- the New York Rangers -- in consecutive games, one here, one there. It won Feb. 18 at Philadelphia. It won Feb. 4 at Boston. It won Jan. 24 at St. Louis.

"I'm comfortable with this team moving forward," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Monday.

"I know our team can win," star center Evgeni Malkin said.

"I like our team," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Can we all agree?

The Penguins are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender without concussed Sidney Crosby and will be the overwhelming favorite if Crosby returns.

The NHL trade deadline passed Monday with Shero making no moves. That's a good thing. There were no Marian Hossas or Bill Guerins or James Neals available for the Penguins to get, at least not at a reasonable price. It would have been a shame to see Shero risk terrific chemistry in the team's room merely for the sake of making some kind of change. It should inspire the boys knowing that their boss believes in them. "More than anything, it's an endorsement of what we have," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Shero did his heavy lifting shortly before the trade deadline last season when he acquired winger Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen in what he called "a good hockey trade -- now and for the future." Neal has become a star -- a 30-goal man -- and Niskanen might be the team's most improved player. Shero also made a strong move by signing free agent winger Steve Sullivan in the offseason. Sullivan, who had a reputation of being fragile, has played in all 62 games this season, solidified what was a weak power play and is playing his best hockey with a goal and seven assists in the past five games.

Clearly, the Penguins were built to go for the Cup before the season. The problem has been injuries. It's believed they lead the NHL with 296 man-games lost, the biggest number coming because Crosby has been able to play in just eight of the 62 games.

But the Penguins, finally, are healthy with the notable exception of Crosby. Their top seven defensemen have been virtually intact since Kris Letang -- a Norris Trophy candidate in the making -- returned Jan. 19 after missing 21 games because of a concussion. Center Jordan Staal has played the past eight games after missing 15 with a knee injury and has given the team a big lift with six goals and four assists. It's nice to think winger Tyler Kennedy, who missed the past nine games with a high ankle sprain, will return sooner rather than later. …

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