Assessing the Penguins vs. the Eastern far by @DXTraeger - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Assessing the Penguins vs. the Eastern far by @DXTraeger

The Eastern Conference's Prince of Wales Trophy Might be the Penguins' for the Taking
The 2014 off-season was a tumultuous one for the Pittsburgh Penguins following their embarrassing collapse to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

The early playoff departure bought head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero the proverbial one way tickets out of town, and ushered in both a new era of player personnel and offensive philosophy.

Penguins owner Mario Lemieux even had difficulty streamlining the new head coach process: if media reports are to be believed, the Penguins were either too late in inquiring or were outright declined by some of the top options available on the market, and the hiring of career minor-league coach Mike Johnston failed to have the electricity of hiring the defensive minded Barry Trotz to shore up the Penguins' clear lapses in their own end.

However, Johnston- along with the newly hired GM Jim Rutherford, formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes- have instilled a new energy into the locker room, and after 1/9th of the season, the cream is beginning to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, with the Penguins doing a lot of the swilling.

Consider: the Penguins' own Metropolitan Division is an unmitigated disaster, with only the Penguins and the revamped New York Islanders showing any sense of consistency, star power, and potential.

The Devils were just whipped 8-3 by the Penguins, have a new starting goaltender that's trying to escape the shadows of his predecessor, and their best offensive player is 42 years old.

The Flyers are extremely top-heavy offensively, and injuries have decimated their blue line corps.

Washington spent big bucks to acquire the aging and declining Brooks Orpik, and also overspent in trying to catch lightning in a bottle in the form of Matt Niskanen (SPOILER ALERT: he's not going to score 50+ points).

The Rangers are middling and will only go as far as Henrik Lundqvist can take them, while the Carolina Hurricanes have effectively already given up on the season and are desperately taking aim at winning the draft lottery and the rights to the new hockey wunderkind, Connor McDavid.

The Penguins' only real competition in the Atlantic Division comes from the Montreal Canadians and Tampa Bay Lightning, and both teams have big question marks.  Montreal is 8-2-1, but their goal differential is even at 29.  The Habs also lack offensive firepower to compete with the Penguins, even if Carey Price can be spectacular in goal.

The Lighting have the best sniper in the NHL in Steven Stamkos, but not a whole lot more.  Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was forced to trade Stamkos's linemate, Martin St. Louis, for a bag of potatoes following an Olympic snub, and Stamkos will have to generate a lot of his own offense.

Finally, Boston has been annihilated by the salary cap and has lost its captain, Zdeno Chara, for an indefinite amount of time following a leg injury.

Barring the Penguins suffering the same type of injury depletion, there just isn't much talent for the Penguins to go through on their way toward making the playoffs and making a legitimate run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals.

With Pittsburgh still acclimating to their new system, hopefully the team will continue to trend upward by the time the post-season starts in April.

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