Penguins Bid Farewell to 2013: Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Butt. by @ChicksDigHockey




2013 was a fairly turbulent year for  Penguin hockey. When the ball dropped on 2013, the NHL was  in the throws of a lockout. Fans felt like they were held hostage by greedy owners who cared more about their wallets than the greater good of the sport. Neither side seemed willing to budge while fans and those who make their living from what hockey brings to their city faced a bleak winter.

On January 12 both the NHL and the NHLPA announced that both sides signed the agreement reflecting the terms of the new 10-year CBA officially ending the lockout. They announced a 720 game (48 per team) regular-season schedule that would begin on January 19, 2013.  When the smoke cleared and an agreement was reached, we were left without The Winter Classic and The All-Star Game but something was better than nothing, right?

Let's take a look back at 2013 and the roller coaster ride it turned out to be.


 January

The Penguins started the season with a win over the Philadelphia Flyers that propelled Marc-Andre Fleury past Tom Barrasso becoming the Penguins all-time winning goaltender. 

February 
February 6th the Penguins bid farewell to our beloved Ben Lovejoy who flew west to become a Duck. While in a purging mood the Pens let the Big Dog run….all the way to Winnipeg. Eric Tangredi, after being given more chances than Lindsey Lohan, became a Jet.

February 13 against the Ottawa Senators, Matt Cooke went to finish a hit on Erik Karlsson when Cooke’s skate blade caught Karlsson on the back of his left leg lacerating his left achilles. He became public enemy number one in the great white north.
The Penguins resurrected Mark Eaton Feb 25th by offering the defenseman the choice of staying home to watch The Price is Right or an AHL try-out. Eaton wisely chose the tryout and by the end of the Month was back on the Penguin’s bench. 

March
It was the best of times....it was the worst of times...
The trade deadline for the 2013 season was set at April 3rd. No team in the NHL took greater advantage of the available trades in March of 2013 than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ray Shero was bargaining like a man possessed. 

  •     March 24, 2013: The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Brenden Morrow and a conditional 2013 3rd round draft pick from the Dallas Stars for prospect Joe Morrow and a 2013 5th round draft pick.
  •     March 25, 2013: The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks for a 2013 2nd round draft pick and a conditional 2014 2nd round draft pick.
  •     March 28, 2013: The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames for prospects Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski and a 2013 1st round draft pick.

March was a very impressive month for the Pens aside from the acquisitions of the century. The Penguins' 15-0 record in March made them the first NHL team to be perfect in a month with 10 or more games. As of March 30, with 28 straight points, Pittsburgh owned the NHL's best record at 28-8 (56 points). Marc Andre Fleury was a god (hold on to that thought). 

March 28th, Tomas Vokoun recorded his 50th career shutout extending the Penguins winning streak to 14 games. The Penguins also set a franchise record for longest shutout streak of 208:24 minutes with Vokoun setting a personal and Penguins record for an individual shutout streak with 162:42 minutes. 

March 30 will forever mark the day Brooks Orpik unleashed a rare rocket hoping for a score but the deflected slap shot broke Sidney Crosby’s face instead. Replay showed teeth flying, blood splaying and within hours of the injury, Crosby was in surgery to stabilize his jaw with a titanium plate. At that time, Crosby had 56 points (15
 goals, 41 assists) and held a 10-point lead in the scoring race. 3/30/13 also marked the last time the Penguins would wear the cursed Blue Jerseys. 

April 

On April 3rd , at the trade deadline, just because he could, Shero acquired Jussi Jokinen from the Canes. Jokinen had been placed on waivers by the Hurricanes and cleared waivers. The Canes literally paid the Pens to take him ( Carolina Hurricanes pick up nearly $1 million of Jokinen’s $3 million salary).With Crosby sidelined like a Jack-O-Lantern in November, the Pens now had a legendary collection of talent.

 But April was a month that seemed kind of out of balance. Crosby was out, Neal suffered a concussion and the rest of the team seemed to be struggling to adjust to their absence and the presence of all the new acquisitions. There were high lights:  Defenseman Douglas Murray scored a goal which ended the longest goalless streak in the NHL of 146 games helping the Penguins defeat the Canadiens 6–4 . Tomas Vokoun reach his 300th career win in his 700th career game. Dan Bylsma became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 200 wins (316 games).  

When April of the abbreviated season came to a close, The Penguins led the League in scoring for the second consecutive year, scoring 162 goals overall (excluding 3 shootout-winning goals). The Penguins also scored at least one goal in all of their 48 regular-season games. They clinched the soon to be defunct Atlantic division and were Eastern conference champs. 

May

May 1st bought playoff hockey to Pittsburgh. The Pens handled the Isles in the Quarters 4 games to 2. Sidney Crosby made his return in Game 2 after missing  just 13 games . That series ended with Brooks Orpik scoring his first career playoff goal in 78 playoff games

The Pens moved on to the Semifinals against the #7 seed the Ottawa Senators. Both Crosby and Neal scored hat tricks in the series while the Penguins out scored the Senators  in the 5 game match 22–11. They did it all without Marc Andre Fleury in net. His shaky performance had sent him to the bench in favor of veteran back-up Thomas Vokoun.

Next came the eastern conference finales; the last trial before the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins faced the #4 seed Boston Bruins. It would be their third Conference Finals since 2008, while the Boston Bruins were making their second appearance in three years. It wasn’t pretty. The Bruins swept the top seeded Penguins.  Boston goalie Tuukka Rask recorded his first two career playoff shutouts, and only allowed two Pittsburgh goals in the entire series. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jarome Iginla were held to zero combined points during the series. The Pens were sent golfing.
 
 Summer


Summer….the time when hockey teams lick their wounds and vow to return in the fall better than ever and renew their quest for the most amazing trophy in all of sport. The business of hockey in the summer is free agency, trades and the draft. Tyler Kennedy and his $2 million cap hit to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick. A deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets  allowed the Pens to move up to the 44th pick, Shero selected goaltender Tristan Jarry.

The Legendary acquisitions, except for Jokinen departed during the summer: Iginla now with the Boston Bruins, Morrow to St. Louis and Murray eventually to Montreal Canadiens. In the end, the Pens traded away first, second and fourth-round picks in 2013, a second-round pick in 2014 and three prospects; including their first-round pick in 2010, Joe Morrow to acquire four players. Summer also saw the bitter-sweet parting of Matt Cooke to the Wild with a rumored promise of employment in the Penguins' organization for the post-hockey years.

Since loosing Rob Scuderi to the Kings in '09, Shero tried to find a suitable replacement; a stay at home defenseman with talent and versatility. He found him in the summer when he signed Scuderi to return to the blue line that missed him since he departed.

Shero was also able to sign Malkin and Crosby to lucrative deals that were less than they may have gotten elsewhere but should keep them in Pittsburgh for the remainder of their careers. After watching two of the game’s premier players take less money and re-sign with the Pens, Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz all chose to follow Crosby's and Malkin's example and extend their stays in Pittsburgh as well.

The NHL shuffled teams and redrew lines over the summer. The realignment clumped the Pens and 8 other teams in a division the powers that be named "The Metropolitan". What sadistic bastard suggested the name Metropolitan?

The days before the opening of training camp were filled with speculation that Matt Niskanen should/would be traded either to clear up cap space or for perceived lack of worth to the team. Why would they need Niskanen after Letang signed a long term deal?

September

Training camp opened with Sam Kasan [@Pensinsidescoop] asking questions we all wanted answers to:

• Who will fill the Penguins’ top-six hole next to Evgeni Malkin and James Neal?
• Who will replace Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on the third line?
• What will be the makeup of the team’s defensive corps for the opening day roster?
• How will Marc-Andre Fleury respond with a fresh start?

Fleury was rumored to have spent time with a sports psychologist to help solve the mystery of his apparent lack of confidence in playoff games. The Pens made sure to proclaim the Fleury was their #1 moving forward but Vokoun would be there to back him up. That notion would prove to be disastrously untrue as Vokoun, who had suffered from Deep vein thrombosis in the past, had another DVT and would be out indefinitely.

October - November

When the season started, the Pittsburgh Penguins had to play their first handful of games without Kris Letang. Then James Neal re-aggravated his injury during the season opener and was out for the entire month of October. Chuck Kobasew was the next to go down and would miss several weeks. Newly acquired Rob Scuderi suffered a broken ankle requiring surgery. Then, the injuries just kept piling up:
                        Tanner Glass....Broken hand....8-10 weeks
                        Beau Bennett....Wrist surgery...8-10 weeks
                        Paul Martin.......Broken leg......8-10 weeks
                        Brooks Orpik...Concussion.... uncertain
By the end of November the Pens sat at the top of the Metro Division but their defense was decimated. Deryk Engelland was suspended for 5 games leaving the Pens defense consisting of Matt Niskanen, 4 AHL guys and Olli Maatta who skipped the AHL and went directly to the show.If I had my way, Nisky would have worn a sign reading "How do you like me now?"

December
December opened with the promise of concussions resolved, suspensions ended bones healed and a return to the team envisioned at the opening of the season. For a while, that looked possible. Orpik recovered, Glass and Scuderi were skating then....Malkin slammed into the boards and injured his leg. Pens fans screamed out to the Hockey Gods, "WHY US??" Then, as if to answer "Why not you?" Pascal Dupuis, the dependable work horse, suffered an ACL tear and would require what would likely be season-ending surgery. 

It is officially the half-way point in the season. With 41 games played, the Pens sit at the top of the Metro Division despite a league leading 227 man-games lost to injury. In the December 18 game against the Rangers they had 8 players from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton suited up. Despite it all, The Penguins have built a 14-point lead in the division over second-place Washington. Those who have been critical of Coach Bylsma, Marc Andre Fleury and even Matt Niskanen have grown quiet. 19 year old Olli Maatta has proven worthy of the trust placed in him. The Power Play unit has been outstanding and the PK unit ranks second in the NHL with an 87.7 percent rate. Sidney Crosby leads the league with 58 points, Kunitz is tied as the plus/minus leader and MAF is the goalie king with 22 wins. Brandon Sutter has been a solid center on a third line that has been like a revolving door and Jeff Zatkoff has won 7 straight he has been in net for.

It has been said:  Champions in any field of endeavor always rise to the occasion. Champions see what they can become rather than live in the past. Champions view life as a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we bid 2013 goodbye and look toward 2014, The Pittsburgh Penguins are playing like champions.




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