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Insider Only Benz on the Penguins: Major topics of debate heading into the Olympic break

The Pittsburgh Penguins have entered the Olympic break with 76 points. That’s good for second place in their division and fourth place in their conference. In other words, the Pens are exactly where they ended the regular season last year before beginning the playoffs. Some fans see that as harbinger of things to come. Others see that as the team stagnating and meandering towards the post season.
With that being said let’s play a little “True/False” with the major topics of debate heading into the Olympic break that seem to be consuming the Penguin fan base as backers of the Birds hope to see a second consecutive Stanley Cup parade four months from now in downtown Pittsburgh… assuming the snow is shoveled out by then.
Hah! I take that back. The city would never be able to make that happen. Let’s just hope most of it melts on its own by mid June… maybe.
1. THE PENGUINS NEED TO MAKE ANOTHER TRADE TO WIN ANOTHER CUP: True! The Penguins have two major flaws right now. The first is the power play. The second is the defensive zone coverage.
I’d like to think the power play will be able to get better on its own without Ray Shero having to over-pay for a Ray Whitney or a Raffi Torres or Alexei Ponikarovsky or R.J. Umberger. I’d also like to think Brooklyn Decker would find me moderately attractive after a few beers.
Neither is going to happen.
And Pittsburgh’s play in its own end isn’t as difficult to skate through without the presence of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill.
Unlike the power play which should be better than it is, Pittsburgh’s defensemen are what they are behind their own blue line. Andy Sutton sure would look great in black and gold. If Sutton doesn’t come to Pittsburgh and win a Cup, maybe he’ll win one in Chicago instead.
2. SIDNEY CROSBY WILL BEAT OUT ALEXANDER OVECHKIN FOR THE GOAL SCORING TITLE: False! Sidney Crosby’s goal scoring transformation is nothing short of phenomenal. It has been a major story here in Pittsburgh, and a significant point of discussion across the league too.
Yet don’t think it has even been discussed enough! Sid’s ability to better hone his game every off-season since he came into the league is the mark of a true legend in the making.
If you think that’s hyperbole, you haven’t been watching closely enough.
But scoring goals is Ovechkin’s thing. He does it better than anyone else on the planet. Both Crosby and Ovechkin have 42 goals right now. I’m a bit concerned Sid has gone through his hottest goal scoring spell of the season. And I don’t think Ovechkin has goal scoring spells. I just think it happens for him. All the time. Like breathing. Or blinking. It’s that simple for Ovie. Sid has had to work his butt off for almost every one of those goals.
Ovechkin works like crazy too. But putting the puck in the net is just so much more natural for him. Also, consider that Sid has played in seven more games than Ovechkin. And, as a team, the Caps score more goals than the Penguins. So Ovie is simply going to be involved in more offense.
I’d love to see Crosby win the goal scoring title. It’d be an incredible testament to all the hard work he’s done. I just don’t see it happening unless #8 suffers another significant injury.
Probably true, Unless the Penguins change dramatically. And I mean change either in terms of personnel, approach, or execution. Come to think of it, maybe I mean all three!
If their power play does get better, then that statement won’t be true… especially against New Jersey. If the Pens play better defense, then that statement may not be true… especially against the Caps.
But based upon the body of work both teams have put out on the ice against Pittsburgh, the evidence doesn’t lie…

This edition of the Penguins hasn’t matched up well against either New Jersey or Washington.
#4 MARC-ANDRE FLEURY WILL BE THE UNDOING OF THE PENGUINS: False! Oh gawd! Are we still having this argument?
Yup, apparently we are. A day doesn’t go by on Pittsburgh sports-talk radio without somebody attacking Marc-Andre Fleury. You know how the argument goes:
“Hey, Tim, I know Marc-Andre Fleury got us the Cup and all last year and all… BUT isn’t his save percentage a little low this year? Thanks, I’ll hang up and listen.”
First of all, isn’t it great that Fleury’s Cup victory is now nothing more than an introductory clause before callers from Washington County to Warrendale rip the guy? I used to think back to back Stanley Cup finals appearances meant something long term when it came to building up credibility with a fan base. I’ll never be so naïve again.
Fleury-Haters, keep this in mind: It’s not March yet. Flower always gets better in the spring time, and he’s been great in the playoffs the last two years. Come back to me in June.
Actually, no… I take that back. Right now, who would you rather have? If Marc-Andre
Fleury is so damned bad, who would you rather have? Ryan Miller? Roberto Luongo? Tim Thomas? Evgeni Nabokov? How many Cups have those guys won? How many finals have they been too?
The great thing about the Fleury argument is this… Fleury backers can never be wrong. He’s already gotten the Pens to the finals twice and won one Cup. And Fleury haters keep spouting their garbage all the time with confidence because they know at some point they’ll be right too.
At some point, yes, Marc-Andre Fleury will lose in the playoffs. And when he does, these vultures will be circling. I just hope they remember how good these days have been whenever the next goaltender comes through Pittsburgh. Those vultures will probably sound like songbirds singing Fleury’s praises ten years after the fact.
With 20 games remaining last year, Pittsburgh only had 30 wins on the season. They have 36 this season. The Dan Bylsma era was a mere five games old. He had guided the team to three wins, one loss, and one overtime loss. Shero was about to trade for Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz. All was about to be right with the world.
But at the time, Pittsburgh’s playoff fate was very much up in the air. So they were trending up, though they were without any security. This year’s Penguin team is on a higher plane at a similar point in the year. Yet, its momentum is far less in the right direction than last year’s club. I like where the Penguins ARE right now better than I did last year. Yet I’m not sure if I like the current direction as much as did at this time a year ago.

About The Author

Tim Benz

TIOPS Columnist

Tim Benz can be heard on the Pittsburgh Steelers Radio Network post game show and M-F 10-1 on TribLive Radio

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