For Crosby and Malkin, the Window is Closing by @PandaPSU - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, October 6, 2014

For Crosby and Malkin, the Window is Closing by @PandaPSU



It is hard to believe that it has been over five years since the Penguins hoisted their last Stanley Cup. The Penguins' expectations prior to drafting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were of moving up in the draft order each year, and/or maybe not being last in the Eastern Conference. However, those expectations with Crosby and Malkin were and are to win -- the Stanley Cup -- each year.



(Crosby hoisting the cup in 2009 - Geno also pictured. Photo courtesy of the MiamiHerald.com)
It was such a great time to be a fan. Much like the Pirates' recent success, the Penguins were bad for a long time leading up to the mid-2000's -- then they drafted Crosby and Malkin. The teams were exciting to watch. The team, the city, and the fans overcame the roadblock of a possible transition to Kansas City or Las Vegas. Each year the Penguins were closer to prominence again. A first-round loss to the Senators in 2007. A loss to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008. Then, finally, the cup returned to Pittsburgh in a rematch against Detroit in 2009. Back-to-back finals in 2008 and 2009 with a core that was still incredibly young. It seemed like these Penguins were going for an Oilers-like dynasty, but as the tired sports saying goes, "you never know when you will get back here again." The sad truth for Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the fans is that the window of opportunity for Malkin and Crosby is closing quickly.

(Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez celebrate a goal in game 2. Photo courtesy of the post-gazette.com)
Ever since the cup win in 2009, the organization's goal each year has been to win a Stanley Cup again. In 2010, the Penguins lost in the second round in seven games to the Montreal Canadians. It was the last season at Mellon Arena. Many fans and analysts blamed the early exit on two long Stanley Cup runs and a performance for the Olympics that season in Vancouver. Fair enough. It was a reasonable explanation or justification. The fans got over the loss quickly and were excited to be in their new home in a few months at Consol Energy Center.

(Sean Bergenheim scores the only win in Game 7. Photo courtesy of pittsburgh.cbslocal.com)


The 2010-11 season was a roller-coaster ride for fans. The Consol Energy Center opened to great reviews. Sidney Crosby had a 25 game point streak and was on pace to set some impressive numbers -- even for Sidney Crosby. The Penguins looked poised for another deep cup run. Then the Winter Classic came. The team lost and that was the least of their worries as Crosby suffered back-to-back concussions. He would be sidelined for the rest of the season. Malkin was left to shoulder the load for the team. He did a good job doing that until February 4, 2011 against the Buffalo Sabres. After a battle in the corner, Tyler Myers fell awkwardly on Malkin's leg tearing his ACL and MCL. The team would go on to blow a 3-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning and lose in the first round of the playoffs. Everyone pretty much chalked up the early exit to Crosby and Malkin being injured and agreed brighter days were in the near future.

(Claude Giroux and Jacob Voracek celebrate a Scott Hartnell goal in the Pens game 6 loss. Photo courtesy of theguardian.com)
Malkin returned to start the 2011-12 season and Crosby returned for eight games early in the season as well as the final 14 games. It looked as though the team would finally be at full strength going into the postseason. The Penguins would eventually lose in the first round to their dreaded rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a frustrating series on many levels. The Flyers were able to get under the skin of the Penguins. Crosby had 9 penalty minutes, including a fighting major. The team gave up 30 goals in six games. Marc-Andre Fleury had a horrendous postseason posting a 4.63 GAA and .834 save percentage. Still, fans said it was an aberration. Crosby barely got to play before the postseason. He was a little rusty, and the Flyers got to the Penguins. The team would fare better next time.

(David Krejci celebrates a goal in a game 3 win over the Penguins. Photo courtesy of ESPN.com)
The lockout-shortened season surely would benefit the Penguins. THIS was their year. Ray Shero thought so as well and loaded up the team for a playoff run. He brought in Brendan Morrow, Jarome Iginla, and Douglas Murray. All were highly sought after players at the trade deadline. The team was loaded and primed for a cup run. They also got past some injuries again to Malkin (concussion/shoulder) and Crosby (broken jaw). After a shaky start again for Fleury against the Islanders, Tomas Vokoun righted the ship. The Pens beat the Islanders in six games, and then took care of the Senators in five games. Unfortunately, they ran into the Bruins for the conference finals. The Penguins were swept in four games, and they only managed to score two goals -- total. Fans were more than restless, but when cooler heads prevailed, many fans said the team ran into an extremely hot goaltender in Tuukka Rask (1.88 GA, and .940 save percentage that postseason) and Chara was able to shut down Crosby. Next year would be better.

(Brian Boyle scores the Rangers first goal in game 7. Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com)
After the disappointing exit the prior season, the front office made some changes. Jacques Martin was hired on as an assistant coach with the hopes his defensive mindset would be a welcome addition for Bylsma and the Penguins. The Penguins finished the regular season with 109 points, which was good enough for second in the Eastern Conference. After a bit of a struggle, they took care of the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games. They went up on the New York Rangers 3-1, only to see their season stopped short once again by blowing the 3-1 series lead and losing to the Rangers in seven games. This exit really hurt because Crosby did not have a good postseason. James Neal was non-existent. These were the same things popping up, at the wrong time, every year. It caused the owners and team executives to do a clean sweep, and here we are today.

That was painful to rehash all of the various ways this team has blown chances in the past five years, but the point is that it is hard to win. It is hard to win divisions. It is harder to win playoff series and conference championships. It is incredibly hard to win a Stanley Cup. Things get in the way. Whether it be injuries, bad decisions, lack of scoring wingers, coaching style, etc. -- things happen. There is a great article by Tim Hiebert at sportingcharts.com that details the average ages of the past 48 Stanley Cup winning teams (not updated as of yet to include last year's Kings team). The Montreal Canadians in '85-'86 were the youngest team at 24.48, and the Detroit Red Wings were the oldest in '07-'08 at 31.7. The average age of a Stanley Cup winner over this period was 27.2. Crosby turned 27 in August and Malkin turned 28 in July. These two are at or past the average age for a cup winner. It is Crosby's tenth season and Malkin's ninth season this year. It is hard to believe, but the window of opportunity is closing for Crosby and Malkin. With everything starting fresh this season, the excuses for this team need to stop, and another cup needs to come to Pittsburgh. A feat that is certainly easier said than done.














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