It's finally here. Just one sleep out until our Pens hit the ice in chase of Lord Stanley. Can we, only as Pens fans, be chasing this goal from the moment the puck hits the ice? About as much as Jagr and Talbo chased the dollar signs down the interstate.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011 Chris Crowell No comments
Now, how can this season look as a game by game, month by month basis? I look at it this way and maybe some would agree, but most won't. As I had said earlier this week, I am NOT a fan of how this season starts with 3 road games, 3 time zones away against opponents of little value to us other than the point totals. Yet our division and conference rivals open or play at a fairly reasonable or hated team. But this really doesn't matter in the long run.
I like how the schedule isn't very balanced at the start, but that would seem to work in our favor as our Captain is still not able to play. Lots of home games in the back half and post all-star break make for an interesting push for the playoffs and a seemingly good comfort level in a home-ice advantage seeding.
I have heard lots over the tube the last few days of how the Pens are the odds on favorite to capture the Cup this spring. But the next station says the Caps are primed and the Canucks and the Bruins, etc. etc. I could care less at this point. Seeding makes no difference and as long as you're above that line come the 2nd week of April, then it's all good.
I personally think we have to shut out the noise and look from within our Pens as the season unfolds. Many players have a lot to play for this year. New contacts, new players, new attitudes and new goals have pretty much every player from Sid to Smacker33 (awesome handle,BTW) in the spotlight or in some cases, crosshairs.
All the pundits have Sid coming back at or near the level he left at in January last year. I say, just come back at some point. It doesn't matter, him being healthy he makes us a true(r) contender.
We saw last spring what Sid truly brings to the table on and off the ice and how far we can go without him. Yes, Gino is the X-Factor that I will tune in for nightly. I just hope he will back up all the junk he talked leading up to tomorrow night. But at least his preseason gave us a look at how motivated he really seems.
I already pointed the finger at James Neal; he knows what he needs to do. Plus, funny things happen in a contact year. I'm really curious to see how the following 3 players produce. Will Staal truly grab the bull by horns this season, rather than just being another cog in the wheel behind the two headed monster? I really hope Bylsma lets him loose, because I really want to see more of those long up-ice breaks with a defender all over his back as he slams the puck in short side while going into full beast mode (a la 2009 Finals).
Another question on the minds of us all is who will Matt Cooke really be this year? Seriously, Talbo was not brought back cause Cookie scores more, plays better and flat-out contributes harder and more consistently that 25 ever has. No measure for Max's heart, but his loyalty went right out the window. See you in Dec Maxime.
And finally, Steve Sullivan. Pretty much, how many games will this guy play? I wouldn't be shocked if his season went pretty the same as Comrie's did last year (I hope not, but you get the feeling he's gonna play that role). Yes, he will be the power play dynamic we need, but I think we should be more worried about his durability long term. He will miss some time; the numbers over the years dictate that. But this guy has a huge heart and when it's gut check time, he will be the first out the gate.
I doubt anyone remembers he started with the Devils. I saw him play about 6 games as a showcase for trade bait back in 97 and this guy does have game. He is feisty and always looks peaved. Good thing is, he plays the same way. Look for a huge OT winner in the playoffs from Sully-book it right now.
There's my breakdown. Everyone else we all know what they bring and what the can produce. I have no worries from the supporting cast. They proved their worthiness last season. From Flower out, every one of our Pens plays his own crucial role to make us as successful as we have been and need to be.
These guys want to play in the NHL. But more importantly, they want to play in Pittsburgh, and that speaks volumes. I really think this team has more to offer than last year and it took me a while to figure it out. Hunger depends on how bad you want it. A friend of mine just received his Stanley Cup ring last night and I'm so proud of him and that's all he talked about all summer. He worked hard for it.
I will be checking in with him mid February on the road and I will see how he's feeling now that he will have to bring that kind of game every night. But I think the Pens have a certain type of message to send. Not like last years Bruins who came up with 40 years of excuses before they finally earned it. No, I mean working for it because it's all you want.
That night in June 2009 is still fresh in the minds of the players and the fans, but it's that focus and desire that make champions play like champions. This years Penguins feels right to me, and I didn't have that gut feeling at any point last year. Actually, you know what? Just take 2 of 3 on this trip and then bring it home! Let's go Pens....
P.S. Don't forget to send your questions in for the podcast recording tonight.