"I think this team has as good a chance as any team in the league to win the Stanley Cup."- Mike Sullivan
The Penguins have a deep top-six with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Jason Zucker. Their top-four on defense is quality with Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson and John Marino. They've got a two-time Cup winning goalie, and his backup was an All-star this year.
In short, Mike Sullivan has a point.
What can stand in the Penguins way? Here's a list of five potential roadblocks:
5.) Covid-19…This should probably be number one on this list. It's not as fun to write about, though. According to reports, multiple Montreal Canadiens have tested positive for Covid-19. Nine Penguins were held out of practice yesterday out of "abundance of caution." I think the playoffs will go off without a hitch should all 24 teams be able to make it to the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. Can they get there? That's the question.
4.) The Boston Bruins…They were the best team in hockey this season and were a bad first period in game seven last year away from winning the cup. We’ve seen that long playoff runs can have an effect on a team the following year. I sort of discounted the Bruins because of that. They played a ton of hockey in 2019-2020. Well, by the time hockey is back it will have been 4.5 months of rest. That team is deep and has serious top-end talent. I think their best may be better than the Penguins best.
3.) Goalie uncertainty…This could be in the PLUS column for the Pens. Tristan Jarry was an All-Star this season and Murray has won two rings. BUT, Matt Murray wasn’t good in the regular season. Jarry was struggling down the stretch and hasn’t played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Can one or both regain their peak form? If they can, then this is a non-issue. But when we last saw the Penguins, they weren’t playing well.
2.) Luck…Seriously. You need luck to win the Cup. They've benefitted from some good luck in their championship seasons. Colton Sissons' goal being disallowed in game six of the 2017 Cup Final. The offside’s call on Drouins goal in the 2016 Conference Final. The refs not calling too many men on the ice in the 09’ Cup Final. These games are all so close. You also can be on the wrong side of it and get sent home early. An injury to a key player or a bounce here and there can determine a team's fate.
1.) Mindset…The Pens need to "play the right way." The Penguins played great defense in March last season, but played lax against the Red Wings and Rangers at the end of the year and the poor effort led to their demise against the Islanders. I have vivid flashbacks of Kris Letang trying to go coast-to-coast against the Isles in OT. The Pens played GREAT defensively and were eliminating odd-man-breaks at the beginning of this year. They were terrific at managing the puck and playing the right way. Then, the last 11 games, the Pens were 3-8 and were terrible defensively. Which team will show up? I think that they’ve been stewing on that finish for 4 months. I imagine they’ll play the right way. But it’s a big time hurdle they need to overcome. Mindset.