We are previewing the 2011-2012 Penguins season all week.
We're hitting the homestretch. Now it's time to take a look at everyone and everything that makes the organization tick.
[ photo via Bill Maksim on flickr ]
Don't pay attention to what anyone on the North Shore says. This building right here is the crown jewel of the city of Pittsburgh. It makes Heinz Field look like a high-school football stadium. CONSOL has one year under its belt; any and all hiccups in its operation are long gone. After a handful of games last year, we still can't put into words the feeling you get when you step inside this cathedral.
One note that should be made is that the Pens got off to a shitty start at home because they probably felt like they were playing a road game every night. Familiarity is going to be huge this season.
[ pic via Mathieu Milot on flickr ]
Put yourself in Mario Lemieux's shoes. You grew up in Canada and were bigger than the Beatles as you went to the 1984 Draft. You get drafted by a franchise in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that is barely older than you are. You come in and put butts in the seats as the front office tries to build a contender around you. After some jobber years, you finally have some talent around you, enough talent to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Fast-forward a couple of years, and you retire after playing through injuries on a nightly basis. The team owes you some money. A couple years go by, and you see a chance to get that money by organizing a group to buy the franchise. Rather than taking your money and running, you end up paying off all of the franchise's debt and battening down the hatches in an emotional battle to get a new arena to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh. The city of Pittsburgh welcomed Lemieux with open arms in 1984, and he in return has set up camp for his family in the city. Hockey fans in Pittsburgh owe so much to this man. We can never say enough.
Ray Shero was given Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury and was told to build a Stanley Cup contender. He ended up building a Stanley Cup champion in 17 minutes. Anyone who went through Craig Patrick's later years knows how much fun it is to constantly berate a general manager for all the moves he makes, but Ray Shero has yet to give anyone a legitimate reason to bitch about him. Name the time and place if you want to debate us on Ray Shero's standing as one of the top 5 GMs in the National Hockey League.
Tony Granato, Gilles Meloche, and Todd Reirden
Meloche hasn't been fired so we assume he has been a source of comfort for Fleury or he has naked pics of someone inside the organization. Super-villain Granato and Reirden bought the penalty kill to uncharted waters.
Someone needs to work on the powerplay please. Thanks.
Jack Adams Award Winner Dan Bylsma.
When the Penguins were "getting to their game" during the winning streak in December last season with Crosby running away with the scoring title, no one had anything to say about Bylsma's gameplan. Then he loses his two most versatile and talented players within a month of each other. So, what happened after that? His team produced at what would have averaged out to a 94-point season in the standings, and that's why Jack Adams sits atop of his mantel. The first-round loss to the Lightning last year would've been easier to cope with if it was a 4-game sweep. Instead, the Penguins putzed away a 3-to-1 series lead. Bylsma's refusal to mix things up as the series was shifting was frustrating to deal with, as one extra PP goal somewhere in there could have meant the Pens were headed to the second round.
No one can dispute that Bylsma's style works, but the last two seasons the Pens have went down in flames in the playoffs. Good coaches evolve and realize their system needs to be tweaked. Huge year for Bylsma.