Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top Ten Pens of the Playoffs

*Editor's Note:* Another Pittsburgh season is in the books, so it's only fitting that Andy writes up a Top Ten players of the season list. Just like with previous Steelers and Penguins seasons, he has ranked the Top Ten most important players, but this time we are focusing on the Playoffs. When I drew up my own list to compare, numbers 1-8 were exactly alike, but I probably would've given the edge to Letang (despite his inability to handle the puck in "Mario's spot" on the PP) and Bill Guerin and 10 and 9. Still, this list is awesome and I'll never get tired of reading about the Pens.

10. Mark Eaton - A lot of people like Kris Letang, but I prefer his defensive partner Mark Eaton. Throughout the playoffs, Eaton was always in the right place at the right time. He had to cover a lot of ice when Letang jumped into the offensive zone. Beyond the solid defensive play, Eaton came up huge offensively in the first round against Philadelphia. He had a monster goal when he batted the puck out of the air during the Pens game six comeback. Without Eaton's goal, there may have been a game 7 in round one, and we know that anything can happen in those.

9. Ruslan Fedotenko - If Eaton was the unsung hero against Philadelphia, then Fedotenko was probably the one against Washington. Big goal after big goal allowed the Pens to come out of a very tough series versus the Capitals. A lot of people probably think Bill Guerin should be on this list, but in my opinion, Guerin became a little more popular than he was productive. There were a lot of questions about the Fedotenko acquisition during the regular season, but those concerns were put to rest in the playoffs. Unlike Marian Hossa, it seems like Ruslan turns his game up for the spring.

8. Sergei Gonchar - I made a similar list like this one last year and had Gonch number two. It wasn't so much him taking a step back as it was others stepping up. Boucher and Goligoski filled in adequately when Sergei was down during the Washington series, but he was still missed immensely. Recent news disclosed that Gonchar had been playing with a torn MCL, that shows how much of a warrior the blue-liner is. Like Fedotenko, big goal after big goal, game winners in Game 6 against Philly and Game 3 against Detroit come to mind.

7. Brooks Orpik - The highlight of the '08 finals may have been Orpik's 4 hits in 15 seconds sequence. This year, Brooks played with that tough intensity and grit throughout the postseason. I can't really think of anything else to say about Orpik other than he was great. A top-notch defender and filled in the role of psuedo-enforcer with Godard being a healthy scratch every game. It's also pretty ironic that if the Pens would have re-signed Hossa, they probably would not have been able to afford Orpik last year. Who would you rather have now?

6. Jordan Staal - For the last few years, you either loved or hated Jordan Staal. Not anymore. He really does it all. Penalty killing, fore checking, cycling, and a knack for scoring big goals, not to mention being paired up with the opposing teams' offensive stars. I don't have to mention the short-handed goal in game 4, the ultimate turning point of the Stanley Cup Finals. Staal is a very enticing piece of trade bait if the Pens want to catch a high-scoring winger. Would you want to trade a young Ron Francis?

5. Rob Scuderi - Scuds has always been pretty strong and solid but seemed to really take it to another level in the playoffs. Against Washington and Detroit, the Pens two toughest series, Scuderi was the best defensemen on the Penguins. He curtailed Ovechkin from game 3 to game 7 and basically "saved" Pittsburgh in game 6 against the Red Wings. Some claim that a team will overpay Scuderi this offseason like the Lightning did with Ryan Malone last year. If he plays like he did this postseason, it might be well worth it.

4. Max Talbot - I think Mark Madden was correct when he said that if there was a Conn Smythe for grit Max Talbot would get it. The two huge game seven goals go without saying. How about the opening goal in game four, or the fight he had in game six in Philadelphia that spearheaded the big comeback. After Sykora started getting scratched, Talbot really boosted Malkin's line. All the chicks that try to be sports geniuses really like Max, which is a slight detriment, but without him, the Penguins would probably not be Stanley Cup champions.

3. Sidney Crosby - The face of the franchise. It's pretty well known that I am not the biggest Sid fan, I mean I like him and think he's a great hockey player, but I certainly don't kiss his feet like many Pittsburghers. Yes he did have to go against Zetterberg and Lidstrom, but the top line was not as productive throughout the playoffs as it could have been. All Sid's fault? Certainly not, just saying. He would have easily won the Conn Smythe if Evgeni did not play on the same team. I don't want to make it seem like all bashing, but the Penguins are much more than just Sidney Crosby, a lot of people don't realize that.

Glove save and a beauty.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury - How do you judge importance? Saving games? Winning games? That's certainly Fleury. He's certainly not lights out every contest, but for the last two years he has a knack for showing up at the right time and bouncing back after rough outings. His game-saving stop of Lidstrom was probably not his "best" save of the playoffs, but it essentially sealed the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings would have won if that game had gone into overtime. When individuals think of the Penguins, Crosby and Malkin are certainly brought up first,but Fleury is equally as important and was an absolute force during the great playoff run.

1. Evgeni Malkin - It makes sense for the Conn Smythe winner to be at the top of this list. I have said it many times that I believe Malkin is the best player in the NHL and his postseason performance backs me up. He had the most playoff points since Gretzky in 1993. Yes, he did not have to face Zetterberg or Lidstrom, but he also plays with second-line wingers. He has slowly turned into a back-checker like Hossa and is starting to get the physically of an Ovechkin. Signature playoff moment? How about his wrap around, back hand, backward, top shelf goal against Carolina? Would the Penguins have won the Cup without Crosby? Probably not, but they played without him in the final period in game seven. Without Malkin, the Pens would probably have not gotten by Philadelphia, if they would have made the playoffs at all.

No comments: