Defense Will Decide Whether Pittsburgh Penguins Are Championship Contenders

By Randy Holt
Kris Letang
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the very best hockey teams on the planet. That’s on paper, that’s on the ice, it doesn’t matter. They’re among the elite. They have two of the best players on the planet, and some others that are in the upper tier offensively.

But it doesn’t mean a thing if they can’t keep the puck out of their own net. Their weakness on the blue line, and between the pipes, is a pretty big part of what caused them to be eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, among other things.

While Rob Scuderi may not seem like a significant upgrade, he should actually be an extremely beneficial addition for the Pens towards improving their defensive strength. Despite his status as a Norris Trophy finalist, Kris Letang has certain deficiencies when playing in his own end, as talented as he is offensively.

When you add Scuderi to the mix, you add that sharp contrast with Letang. What Letang lacks in defensive skill, Scuderi more than makes up for. He’s a guy that can go out and log about 20+ minutes a night, while playing extremely solid hockey in his own zone. That’s going to be a terrific top pairing for Pittsburgh.

The Pens are hoping that the likely success of their top pairing will trickle down. Brooks Orpik is as steady as they come, and there are some other notable names there as well, including Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin, among others.

It may still all come down to Marc-Andre Fleury. The embattled goaltender is in something of a make-or-break season with Pittsburgh. Regardless of how the Pens’ blue line performs, if he struggles in the postseason like he has in the past couple of years, it won’t matter.

The question of whether or not the Penguins have the depth on the blue line to keep the puck out of their own net is one that is going to follow them throughout the season. The addition of Scuderi helps, but until they prove that they are consistent on the blue line, and especially in goal, it remains to be seen if this is the team to beat out of the Eastern Conference.

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