Why the Pens won’t win the cup
As many of you know, the Stanley Cup playoffs are in progress, with the Pittsburgh Penguins battling to defend their title. With no basketball team and a disappointing baseball team, the city of Pittsburgh is looking to the Pens to give them reason to celebrate. Optimistic Pittsburgh fans may think that the Pens are the favorite to defend, but educated hockey fans will tell you that the Stanley Cup will not be parading through Pittsburgh anytime this year.
The main reason why the Pens won’t sniff the cup is one man: Sergei Gonchar. Yes, he is an above-average defender, but he isn’t even the best defender on the team, let alone one of the best in the league. Gonchar has become slow and unreliable in the Pens’ zone. He lacks the ability to play physical defense, and when the time comes, he also lacks the ability to start a breakout. Yes, he brings an offensive mind to the Pens’ formidable power play, but he needs to see less ice time because he hurts the team so much at full strength.
Overall, the Pens have too many defensemen who think about offense first, rather than shutting down the opponents. Just look at their current series with an extremely weak Senators team. The Senators scored three or more goals in four out of the six games of the series. Defensemen are getting burned, and Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury just isn’t good enough to stop the puck by himself. Just as the cliché states, defense wins championships, and the Pens don’t have enough of it.
Defense isn’t the only thing that the Pens have to shore up. To start with, Chris Kunitz and Alexei Ponikarovsky need to step up their games. When Kunitz is playing smart, he can affect the game in a way that no one else can. Lately, he’s been taking ridiculous penalties that just put the Pens on their heels and give other teams scoring opportunities. It may have worked against the Senators, but when they run into better teams like the Capitals, good power plays will tear them up when Kunitz takes an unnecessary penalty.
As for Ponikarovsky, the Pens brought him in to play aside Malkin to make the line stronger. But he hasn’t performed and doesn’t seem to have the fire to play on this team, nor the desire to. One goal and one assist in six games of the playoffs isn’t going to cut it. Ponikarovsky also had just one shot on goal in Saturday’s overtime game. He scored 50 points in the regular season, but he’s having no impact in any of these games.
A lot of Pittsburghers have been complaining about Fleury’s goaltending recently. What they don’t understand is that half the time, it’s not Fleury’s fault. He’s not the best goaltender in the game and when the defense makes stupid mistakes, most goalies in the league are going to get burned. Most of the time he’s doing the right things, like giving up long rebounds and hoping his defense controls the puck.
However, the Pens’ defense tends to be lackluster and lets oncoming offensive players maintain possession. Fleury loses focus sometimes and gets flustered when he gives up easy goals, which is his main flaw. He’s got to keep his head up and realize that he’s a good goaltender and mistakes happen. No one is perfect, especially not him.
Now, I’m not saying that the Pens don’t have a shot to win the cup. With Malkin and Crosby, anything can happen. They can propel any team to stardom. With two overtime wins, the Pens can say that they’ve been battle-tested, and they’ve given up only one goal in overtime. But they need to get their defense in the right mindset before they play the Caps, otherwise they’ll lose that series in less than six games.