Wednesday, January 21, 2009

10 Predictions for the Pens' Second Half

Well, a mostly disappointing first half of the NHL season concluded for our Pittsburgh Penguins last night with a 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes. The Pens sit with 50 points in 48 games, which is a pretty disappointing number and puts them on pace for 85 points for the season, a number that couldn't possibly put them in the postseason. The All-Star Game is of course this weekend, and the Pens don't get back on the ice until a week from today, the 28th of January.

Right now, there appear to be 10 contenders for the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the Pens rank 10th of that bunch. So clearly, something has to go different for the Penguins in the second half, and they need to pick up the pace a bit if they have even the slightest hope of putting together another memorable spring playoff run.

So with all that in mind, here are 10 predictions I am going out on a limb to make for the second half of the NHL season for our Penguins.
1. Evgeni Malkin wins the scoring title, Sidney finishes third with you-know-who sandwiched in between. In case you don't actually know who, I'm referring to Alexander Ovechkin. I think Geno ends up 121 Points, 38 Goals and 83 Assists. Ovie has 114 Points, 55 Goals and 59 Assists, and Crosby has 110 Points, 34 Goals and 76 Assists.

2. Ray Shero DOES get a winger and does rid the Pens of one of their many defensemen, but it's not going to be anyone notable, even if they do end up on Sid's wing. I think, in fact I hope, that Shero freely acknowledges and realizes that this Penguins squad is not on the same caliber of the team from a year ago and thus does not deserve the benefit of gaining a star difference-making piece at the expense of their future. The most likely targets in the event of a blockbuster deal, now that J-Staal has been inked long-term, would be Letang and Goligoski. For one, both of those guys are too important to the current roster to trade away, let alone the team's future. So instead, I'd be willing to bet they make a deal with another potential contending squad, maybe someone out in the Western Conference, and send away a mid-level blue liner like Rob Scuderi, Mark Eaton, or Hal Gill in exchange for a similarly mid-level winger. Not that I have any solutions, but I think this is as good as we can expect from Shero this year.

3. A recently injured offensive defenseman starts playing very well in March and is a key point in a late-season run for the Penguins- And it's not Sergei Gonchar. Instead, I'm referring to Mr. Ryan Whitney. I think part of the reason why the Pens won't be able to seriously consider themselves a championship contender is that there is no way I can see Gonch being at 100% effectiveness by the end of the season. Being away from the game for that long is just too much of a setback, and example numero uno of that is the aforementioned Whitney. However, I think Whitney's mediocre play of late is more because he is still very much in recovery and hasn't come close to being 100% yet. I think having this week off will help, and with a few more weeks after that to get back to form, by March I predict that Whitters will be back to the promising level that once convinced Ray Shero to sign him to a 6 year extension.

4. The Pens struggle for at least a handful of games after the All-Star Break. I don't think this team is ready just yet to get back on track. There have been promising signs, and I'm not saying they will have another long losing streak, but I say they idling along at about .500 puck for at least the first handful of games.

5. Mathieu Garon gets a look in net shortly after the All-Star Break as Marc-Andre Fleury's struggles with inconsistency continue in the coming weeks. Garon plays pretty well. Assuming prediction number 4 is right, I think the Flower is a big reason for this middling performance, as he continues to battle the inconsistency issues that have plagued him all season. Garon steps in for Fleury a few times, at least, and puts together some sound performances that get the local talking heads yapping away about a goalie competition.

6. But, once again, Fleury responds to a challenge by finally playing consistent and playing well in the net as one of the key cogs in a late season run. Much like the Ty Conklin debate of a year ago, Fleury seems to get a fire lit under him by in-house competition. His much-improved play is a big reason why...

7. The Pens make the playoffs as the seventh seed. Fleury wrests the starting job away and makes it all his own and this combined with Sid, Geno, Petr Gunn, Whitters, and the return of a so-so Gonch get the Pens into a playoff spot with a very good stretch from mid-February to the end of the season. The Eastern Conference playoff seeds are: 1) Boston 2) Washington 3) New Jersey 4) Montreal 5) New York Rangers 6) Philadelphia 7) Pittsburgh 8) Buffalo.

8. The Pens pull a first round upset, but exit stage right in the second round. I mean, going off of prediction 7, that would mean a Pens-Caps first round matchup, and really, is there any other way for a Pens-Caps playoff series to end than with the black and gold advancing? I think not. One of my favorite new rivalries gets a big-time new chapter added to it in what I think would be a fantastic, well-played, frisky matchup. Pens take it in 6.

9. Bill Thomas and Chris Minard end up spending the majority of the second half in the NHL. Janne Pesonen doesn't. Given that the Pens still have a fair amount of injuries on the roster as well as some underachievers to boot, I expect Minard and Thomas to get some more chances right after the All-Star Break ends and they are inevitably called back up to the show. I think they both put together solid efforts, Minard maybe even playing well enough to get a permanent spot, while Thomas operates as more of a fill-in once the team gets healthier.

10. The Red Wings beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup. Okay, I ran out of predictions for the Penguins second half. I mean, ten is quite a few to come up with. So, instead I went with the most obvious area for my final prediction: A Stanley Cup Final prediction. The Bruins are without question the best team in the East right now. The Wings may be a definite second behind the Sharks out West, but they have almost unparalleled postseason experience, which is a definite difference-maker when the two squads meet up for the title. For Burgh fans, I think we'll have to grudgingly root for Boston to grab yet another freaking sports title, thus making them 4-for-4 in the past 4 years in the major sports leagues if it were to happen. I don't think it does, though.

1 comment:

Jonathan Bryant said...

Whitney making a second-half surge? I just don't see it. Maybe I'm just too negative for my own good, but I have no faith in that guy becoming the player we thought he could be a couple years ago.
I do like most of your predictions, and agree that I think the Pens somehow find a way into the postseason.