Analysis: Three key takeaways from the Pens’ Stanley Cup victory

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Sidney Crosby continues moving up the all-time list with Stanley Cup victory. By daveynin from United States (Sidney Crosby and his cup) [CC BY 2.0], W3C via Wikimedia Commons

Nicolo Manzo, Asst. Sports Editor

There are few things in sports more enthralling than the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This year’s Stanley Cup Final was an intriguing matchup, pitting the quick, electric offense of the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins against the imposing, physical defense of the eighth-seed-turned-conference-champion Nashville Predators.

As a dedicated Penguins fan, I was happy to see the Pens prevail in a six-game series that ended in “Smashville,” as the home of the Predators has been billed.

The Penguins’ quest for a repeat was one that had even a casual fan on the edge of his or her seat.

The saying goes that the hardest thing to do in sports is to repeat. This may be particularly true in the NHL as no team has successfully defended its title in the salary cap era.

The Penguins’ 25-game playoff run is proof of that. After a five-game series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pens bested both the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators in seven-game series.

The Cup series was largely a tale of two cities.

After Pittsburgh won the first two games, the Predators returned the favor by taking a pair of games in Nashville. The Penguins defended their home ice one last time before stealing a road win along with the Stanley Cup in Game Six.

Although the teams held serve on their home ice with the exception of Game Six, the series was not without quirks.

One of the more glaring statistics was the difference in Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s play at home and on the road.

While Rinne seemed to be nearly impenetrable at home, it was just the opposite in Pittsburgh. Rinne allowed 11 goals in three games away from home.

The Game One performance of Rinne was brutal, but largely indicative of how Nashville would play in Pittsburgh. The Penguins mustered only 11 shots but still found the back of the net four times in a backbreaker of a first game. A game in which the Predators felt like they outplayed the Penguins ended with a loss because of a three-goal barrage at the end of the first period.

Aside from capitalizing on Rinne’s inconsistent play, the Penguins showcased good defensive effort without top defenseman Kris Letang, who missed the playoffs due to injury.

Pittsburgh also received very reliable goaltending from Matt Murray who capped his sophomore season with two shutout performances in Games Five and Six and his second Stanley Cup between the pipes.
In the end, the series boiled down to Pittsburgh’s relentless, lightning-quick offense. The Predators fell victim to blitzkrieg-style attacks by the Penguins on multiple occasions.

What does the outcome of the series mean? Here are three key takeaways:

1. Penguins’ great developmental system
The Penguins’ player development system had a massive impact on the team’s success.

Especially relevant for Northeastern Pennsylvania is the large number of former Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins who played a role in Pittsburgh’s success.

From Murray in goal to breakout playoff hero Jake Guentzel, the former Baby Pens made their presence felt.

It was pretty neat to be able to say that the same guy I saw lighting the lamp at the Mohegan Sun Arena was now setting an NHL playoff record for goals as a rookie with 13.

2. NHL emphasizing athleticism over toughness
The NHL is changing. While there are still enforcers and fighting is still a part of the game, teams are placing less emphasis on that brand of hockey.

They are opting instead for fast, athletic skaters and forwards with sniper-like accuracy, both for the back of the net and finding a teammate.

Even though Nashville’s calling card was its defense, the Predators were not short on quickness. This new brand of hockey is necessary to create a winning franchise in today’s league.

3. Sidney Crosby is still the best in the world
The pure talent of Sidney Crosby was on display again as he proved he is still the best player in the league.

His ability to create opportunities for himself and his teammates separates him from the rest.

His eight goals to go along with a league-leading 19 assists in this year’s playoffs prove his versatility and ability to make those around him on the ice better.

Crosby is one of those players who when he is on the ice, creates an impact just by being there. With three Stanley Cups now in tow, Crosby continues to climb up the ranks of the all-time greats.

People who continue to deny his greatness are just haters at this point. Another Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe later, Sid might not be a kid anymore but rest assured, the Kid, and for that matter the Penguins, are not ready to give up their place on top of the NHL just yet.

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