|The Big Screen Scene Prior to Game 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals (photo credit: me)|
...and yes, this includes the 2013 Jerome Iginla / Brenden Morrow version that lost to the Boston Bruins in embarrassing fashion during the Eastern Conference Finals.
It's easy to superficially dismiss this year's roster as inferior to the Cup winners of 2009 because the core of that team reached the Stanley Cup Finals in consecutive seasons; however, a closer look at the men that comprised that championship team reveals pockmarks and a stunning lack of both top-end talent and overall depth.
For instance, Crosby played on the top line alongside Chris Kunitz and Billy Guerin, and while that trio may sound intimidating on paper, Guerin was playing in his second-to-last season in the NHL and Kunitz contributed all of one goal (1!) throughout the 24 games of the playoffs.
Put another way: if you projected Kunitz's goal scoring prowess (let's call it that) out for an entire year, he would have netted 4 goals.
Yikes. Try to imagine the kind of fan outrage Kunitz would generate if he duplicated that lack of production come spring and yet, that's what the Penguins got out of the former Anaheim Duck after his arrival in February of 2009.
Similarly, Evgeni Malkin mostly shared time between the likes of Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Petr Sykora. Those three wingers compiled a total of 8 goals during the '09 Cup run, with nearly all of them coming off of the stick of Fedotenko (he would score 7 times; Satan would provide the remaining tally in dramatic fashion in Game 1 versus the Carolina Hurricanes).
Later, Maxime Talbot would occupy a wing alongside the future Conn Smythe playoff MVP, but by and large, Malkin was the singular driving force when he was on the ice at even-strength.
Stack those 2009 lines up against the current top two lines of Kunitz / Crosby / Perron and Comeau / Malkin / Hornqvist, and it's not difficult to give the consensus advantage to the players who will take the ice tonight against the Colorado Avalanche.
Jordan Staal was the third cog of the Penguins' ballyhooed "3 Center Model," and to be fair, the synergy of Staal, Matt Cooke, and Tyler Kennedy ("...Kennedy") was capable of not only shutting down the opposing team's top line, but could also drive possession and occasionally put the puck in the net.
In comparison, Brandon Sutter's relatively uninspired play this season may be jump-started with the addition of Daniel Winnik (with Nick Spaling opposite him), but clearly, the 2009 combination is superior.
Which brings discussion to the two teams' fourth lines, and it's here that things truly get interesting. In 2009, Craig Adams centered a grind line alongside Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis. Inexplicably, Talbot would finish the playoffs with more goals than every Pittsburgh player not named "Crosby" or "Malkin" (he would score 8), including his two legendary tallies in Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Pascal Dupuis, beloved as he is now with Pens' fans, was actually an offensive non-factor in the 2009 run. He compiled 0 points and was a -5, but made his mark by playing tough penalty kill minutes.
Compare that to the current Adams line of Bennett / Adams / Downie (give or take a Maxim Lapierre), and it's debatable that Downie and Bennett's offensive skillset is superior to that of Talbot and Dupuis, even though Adams has clearly lost a step due to age.
On the blue line, the Penguins still feature (a more confident) Kris Letang and (a much slower) Rob Scuderi, and Paul Martin has supplanted the role of Sergei Gonchar as the team's veteran defensive-do-everything cog.
The likes of newcomer Ian Cole and returnee Ben Lovejoy offer superior puck-moving skills to that of 2009's Mark Eaton and Philipe Boucher (remember him? no? he dressed 9 times in the 2009 Cup run), but all of the current defensemen (including the not-mentioned Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot) lack the physical presence that HMS Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik brought to the Penguins lineup (especially in the Finals against Detroit).
As for Marc-Andre Fleury, he's managed to insert his name into the Vezina Trophy conversation, and is playing at a level that exceeds even that of his 2008 and 2009 self. There's almost no argument that he's been the Penguins' most consistent player and worthy of team MVP honors.
While the past few playoff runs have soured expectations and created a pessimistic outlook for the Pittsburgh Penguins, have faith: this roster seems built to run deep into the spring, and may bring home the brandy yet again.