Hockey After Dark: the "HOLY $&!7, the PENGUINS HAVE A CHANCE TO REPEAT!" Edition by @DXTraeger - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Hockey After Dark: the "HOLY $&!7, the PENGUINS HAVE A CHANCE TO REPEAT!" Edition by @DXTraeger

"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," where we discuss the Penguins, the Nashville Predators, the Philadelphia Flyers and their delusional fans, and a smattering of pop-culture references that apparently only I appreciate)

In about 17 hours, the Pittsburgh Penguins will take the ice in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and attempt to defend their crown as reigning NHL champions.

I know, everyone has already tried to be the first person to tell you that.

Seriously, I wish I could garner actual statistics about how many different sources have tried to make hay on the same "NOBODY HAS REPEATED AS STANLEY CUP CHAMPION SINCE THE 1997-1998 DETROIT RED WINGS" narrative.

The Penguins repeating as champions would be all the more impressive because the core of their team, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, and...uh....

....thank you, NHL website...

Olli Maata, Carl Hagelin, and (drum roll, please!)...Matt Murray!...all participated in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (that's this past fall, between the Penguins' 2016 Stanley Cup Run and this, the 2016-2017 season).

If you do the math... 


2015-16:  82 regular season games + 24 playoff games + 6 games in the 2016 World Cup = 112 Games
2016-17:  82 regular season games + 19 playoff games = 101 Games
213 games played since 10/2015 for the Pens' core until the start of these 2017 Stanley Cup Finals

213 games of hockey at its highest level within a two year block is an awful lot of hockey for anyone, be it Phil Kessel or Amanda Kessel, to be playing.

And yet, 213 games since 2015 is what the Penguins carry on their shoulders entering a Best-of-Seven showdown with the Nashville "WE'RE A GREAT STORY!" Predators and their enthusiastic fan base.
"...too late..."
And to make a long story short ("too late," say "Clue" fans), it's hard to repeat as champions; so hard, in fact, that only the following teams have achieved the coveted "Back-to-Back" status since the league expanded from the "Original Six" to 12:

     -1968 & 1969, Montreal Canadians
     -1974 & 1975, Philadelphia Flyers (I think we've all heard about this one)
     -1976 thru 1979, Montreal Canadians
     -1980 though 1983, New York Islanders
     -1984 & 1985, Edmonton Oilers
     -1987 & 1988, Edmonton Oilers
     -1991 & 1992, Pittsburgh Penguins
     -1997 & 1998, Detroit Red Wings

The 1997 & 1998 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings are the proverbial target for the Penguins, with Nashville focused only on etching their name on the silver chalice for the first time.

Needless to say (and yet here I am saying it), history and the feared ADP, along with a slew of other factors are stacked against the Penguins, and I haven't even brought up player injuries.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be playing another trap team with a better 1-2, 3-4 pairing on defense, but a team that lacks skill and depth down the middle (something the Penguins have in spades with Crosby/Malkin/Bonino/Cullen), but a goalie with excellent puck-moving skills that could potentially wreck havoc with Pittsburgh's dump-and-chase game.

So can this crop of players– by and large the same crop of players as last season minus Kris Letang– be able to clear their own defensive zone without turning the puck over...

...and then have enough speed and support through the neutral zone to defeat an expected Nashville 1-3-1 trap between the blue lines...

...and then have enough moxie to make Pekka Rinne move enough from left-to-right and vice-versa in order to take him off his angle enough to score with regularity?

(shrug) I have no idea, other than they've managed to down two Vezina Trophy winners, and two of the top 3 regular season teams on their way to this matchup with the Predators.

The Penguins have the offensive individual skill to make a difference, while Nashville is stronger on the blue line and in net.  The battle will be between discipline (the Penguins not taking penalties or retaliating for whatever Subban & company are inevitably going to do) and emergence of a somewhat dormant Predators' attack.

I'm excited.  I'm excited for the Penguins to join the Edmonton Oilers as the only non "Original Six" franchises to claim 5 Stanley Cup Championships.  But I'll try to take this series one game at a game.

Enjoy the game tomorrow, and try to take the whole ambience of the Finals in: we're in rare air, and experiencing the type of successful and fun that we very well may never experience again in our lives.

Remember that.


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