Thursday, March 29, 2007

March of the Penguins

It's been a great ride so far.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have come out of nowhere to be Stanley Cup Contenders. Since the All-Star Break, they've been on this unbelievable tear, swimming up from fourth place in the division to a near dead tie with the Devils. If by some miracle the Devils lose one or two and the Pens finish out with wins, they'll have the Atlantic Division sewn up.

I said it before, I'll say it again: Wait, what?

It's every fan's dream for their favorite team to do one of two things: A) Experience the glory that is becoming a champion, and B) Recapture that glory as often as possible. The Penguins, led by names like Mark Recchi, Ulf and Kjell Samulsson (no relation), Jaromir Jagr and the legendary Mario Lemeiux, danced with Lord Stanley for the first and second times in the 90-91 and 91-92 seasons. Since, that mini-dynasty is all we've really had to be proud of in Pittsburgh, until the Steelers' win last year in Super Bowl XL.

For 15 years, the Penguins have danced, not with Lord Stanley, but on the edge of a very, very sharp knife. Twice the team has come close to being sold off and shipped to some other city. The first time, Mario literally took one for the team as he deferred the salary the team still owed him into an ownership stake, keeping his Penguins (the team he played his entire NHL career with) in Pittsburgh. This most recent scare involved some clandestine meetings that have resulted in the construction of a new Arena, again saving the Penguins from packing their bags.

And hey, you know what? It doesn't hurt that this very young Penguins team, with veteran Mark Recchi back in uniform, is doing pretty damn well for themselves, either.

Last year's Caulder Trophy-winning Rookie of the Year Sidney Crosby is at it again. Not only is he the youngest player in NHL history to hit his first 100 point season, but he's doing it again! He's already over 100 points for the year, and has become the youngest player to hit the 200 point plateau as well. Is there any stopping Sid the Kid? At 19 years of age, he's already playing like a Gretzky or a Lemeiux. Eric Lindros, eat your heart out!

I don't think anyone will argue the fact that Evgeni Malkin is going to take the Caulder Trophy this year. Not only because he's at (or near) the top of damn near every rookie stat category on the list, but because of what he went through to get out of Russia and play in Pittsburgh. The culture shock alone would have been enough to have most people crying like children. Not this kid. No, he turns around an churns out an incredible Rookie season.

It doesn't stop there, either. Malkin isn't the only Penguin considered to be in the hunt for the Caulder. Jordan Staal, anyone? For a rookie playing on a team already stacked with young talent, he's certainly managing to have a breakout year. I've watched this kid make some pretty unbelieveable shots with that reach of his, and more often than physics says he probably should, he finds the back of the cage. While the Caulder Trophy will most likely be deferred to Evgeni Malkin, there's no denying that Staal should be mentioned right in there with him.

More later. For now, I've got to fix a real world problem...

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