They have done it before with a ragtag blue line.
You remember – 1991, there was Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and Ulf Samuelsson, and then a cast of others including Paul Stanton and Jim Paek.
The 1992 iteration lost Coffey and finished that season with the likes of Peter Taglianetti, Kjell Samuelsson and Gordie Roberts.
The ‘09 Cup winners were anchored by Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik. LeTang was too young and wild to be stalwart, and the rest were good contributors but not noteworthy.
The recent Cup teams featured LeTang and Brian Dumoulin, but received good contributions from others like Ian Cole, and, especially in 2016 when LeTang was lost for the playoffs, Justin Schultz.
So the question that comes from all of this? Can this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup with its current cast of blueliners?
After watching the Pens give up 10 goals in two games this past weekend, it is hard to imagine that happening. And before the other side counters with, “Yeah, but they only gave up two goals in the two games before that,” please remember that those two wins required 92 saves from Matt Murray who followed up those brilliant performances with a nauseating showing against Calgary on Saturday.
“No lead is safe with this D,” said G. during an in-game text exchange. James countered with his own take – the Pens will figure it out come playoff time. I am somewhere in the middle of my two most trusted hockey peers. I think that a LeTang/Dumoulin-led corps can be enough if the Pens can figure out a few things – namely:
- Does Mike Sullivan have the guts to scratch Matt Cullen? Unfortunately, the lovable center simply can no longer finish (see his three premium scoring chances against Calgary for evidence), and is not reliable with the puck (see his awful, neutral-zone turnover in the same game that led to Calgary’s third goal). Sully put Cullen on the ice Sunday for the last 18 seconds in the win over the Rangers, and I just had to hold my breath and wonder why.
- Is Scott Bjugstad better than he’s played in his first nine games with the Pens? One goal and three assists is not terrible, and his effort seems to be great, so hopefully Bjugstad is just finding his footing and will become a more productive player.
- And the biggest question of all surrounding this Penguins team: will Phil Kessel find his scoring touch? Assists are great, but Kessel needs to score goals for the Penguins. I would take a 50-goal, 30-assist season from Kessel any day over his recent trend – no goals and seven assists in his last nine games. Four goals in his last 20 games is a startling number. Kessel needs to score goals for the Penguins to have any hope come playoff time.
- I have taken some time between columns of late. Not because there has not been perfect columnist fodder in the Pittsburgh sports scene. To the contrary – it has never been better thanks to Antonio Brown. I have been reluctant to weigh in because I am so baffled by Brown’s 180-degree change in the two seasons since he sustained a brutal, helmet-to-helmet cheap shot courtesy of Vontaze Burfict. I am also hesitant to join the fray. AB is done in Pittsburgh – that is clear. I couldn’t care less if the Steelers get a bag of Brady footballs for Brown – his recent actions are that disgusting, but I do worry that what defiles AB is a far greater problem than it may appear to be – the ramblings of a child who is screaming and kicking for what he wants. His recent tweet to Steelers Nation was emblematic of his profound narcissism. Do you think he even has the slightest clue how quickly and viciously the Pittsburgh fan base will turn on him the very instant he is no longer a Steeler?
- Clint Hurdle said this – out loud: “We believe we are here to win a championship.” Frank Coonelly said Sunday that payroll will not dictate how good or bad the Pirates’ 2019 season will be. This is where the blurry line of negative sports columnist and hopeful Pirates fan becomes even more fuzzy – I want to believe them. I want to believe Hurdle when he says he actually believes this Pirates team can contend for a World Series, and I want to believe Coonelly when he says the parts are greater than the sum total of the Pirates’ payroll. If Coonelly is right, the Pirates would be one of the best values in pro sports, but it is hard to imagine that the team’s strength – its pitching staff – will be good enough to offset spotty middle infield play and a powerless lineup. Here’s hoping those who should know better do, and scrubs like me do not.