It was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins were going through the line at the end of the game to shake the hands of the new Eastern Conference Champions, the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins just got finished defeating the Pens in a dominating sweep in their playoff series. Many people around the league were shocked to see one of the teams that were favored to win the Stanley Cup be defeated so quickly and handled so dominantly like the Pens were by the Bruins.
Now it’s the end of October and a new NHL season has begun. The Penguins went through some needed changes during the offseason. All of these changes, I believe, were a result of the absolute beating they received at the hands of the Bruins. Let’s look at some of these changes.
First off, the Penguins were forced to go with Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Due to the injury to Tomas Vokoun in the offseason, this is undeniably Fleury’s job. This has caused Fleury to refocus his attention to detail and become a better goalie because of it. So far this season, this seems like the awakening that the man they call “The Flower” needed.
Second, their lineup is constructed differently. Let’s first focus on their forwards. When the Pens took on the Bruins last season in the ECF, they were a high-powered, offensive-minded team constructed to score many goals on every one of their lines. At the deadline, the Penguins acquired forwards Jussi Jokinen, Brendon Morrow and Jerome Iginla. These players were all brought in to add scoring depth to the team. This scoring depth was absent during the Conference Finals. Since then, Morrow is no longer with the team and Iginla ironically signed with the Bruins. Jokinen, the man who GM Ray Shero seemed to get on a hunch, is now the guy playing with star center Evgeni Malkin. Also, players like Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke have left the team, which caused the team to reevaluate their lines and make better use of their minor league system, as well as the team’s depth.
On the other hand, the Penguins’ blue line received a serious makeover because of the Bruins. The Penguins played more of a wide open game last season. Now, the Penguins seemed to have focused on forcing the opposing team’s hand, have them make mistakes and then capitalize off of those mistakes. With newly-acquired Rob Scuderi out for a while with a broken ankle, players like Olli Maata and Rob Bortuzzo are going to have to show why the Penguins are so deep at this position.
The loss that the Penguins suffered to the Bruins not only hurt the team, but crushed the hopes of Pens fans all over. However, they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I truly believe that the playoff loss to the Bruins may have refocused this team and made the Penguins a better club in the end.