The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to be the first team since the 98' Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Although they made a change in goal, the Red Wings went largely with the same team that won them the cup the previous year.
Fast forward to this season and the Pens are following a similar path. A few changes on defence and up front, but overall a very similar line-up to the Cup winning team. However one can't help but wonder if these Penguins are mentally ready to challenge for the Cup.
Only the Red Wings have played more games than Pittsburgh over the past two seasons and with the Olympics this year, your adding six more “Game 7″ type games to a jam packed season. Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar are all playing vital roles with their countries which will require them to be all hands on deck for two weeks.
Furthermore, when the Red Wings did it, the Eastern Conference was flat out not very good and it showed in the finals. You look at things right now, Chicago, San Jose, Washington, New Jersey all are hungry for the Cup and if Pittsburgh cannot match that level of competiveness it's not likely they can repeat.
Also, while Malkin is having a good season, it doesn't seem he has the jump he had last season and this could be a result of nagging injury or he is just tired. Last year, Malkin and Crosby were one and two in playoff scoring and the Pens are going to need the Russian sniper to wake up for a chance at Lord Stanley once again.
But there are some things that are working in Pittsburgh favour. For starters, they have done it already. None of the teams listed above have who won a Cup recently and Pittsburgh could out muscle and hustle any of these teams in a playoff series.
Most importantly, Marc-Andre Fleury is between the pipes and if you ask any Stanley Cup winning coach, he will say that goaltending is a necessity when winning a championship. Fleury was superb last season in the playoffs and if he can replicate that effort this year, Pittsburgh can certainly make it to the finals.
In my opinion, Pittsburgh needs a top six forward to get them to the next level. Ray Whitney has been quoted saying he would welcome a trade to the Penguins and he could be what the doctor ordered for Malkin. Their defence is one year wiser and the addition of Jay Mckee makes up for the loss of Hal Gill on the penalty-kill.
If Pittsburgh can't physically and mentally match the competiveness of the league elite, do not expect a parade in Steele town.
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Written by Amit Mann