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Mike Comrie's season-ending empty net goal Sunday in Atlanta served as a poignant reminder of how this NHL season defied so many of our expectations. Comrie was supposed to be working the give-and-go all year with a revitalized Geno Malkin. Instead, Comrie disappeared to go eat sushi with Hilary Duff, and Geno just went "poof" and was gone. Sidney Crosby was supposed to have his "I'm 23-years-old and it's time to put a ridiculous number on the board" kind of scoring binge. It was heading in that direction, but David Steckel couldn't get his uncoordinated ass out of the way. And the Penguins were supposed to be one of the best teams in the league. Somehow, in spite of everything, they were. Their 106 points were the second-most in franchise history. Their 24 road wins tied a team record. As we prepare for a playoff season more uncertain than any other we can remember, take a breath and consider: How in the name of Joe Vitale did we get here?
10. Tyler Kennedy Channels Brett Hull - TK's 21 goals in 80 games is somewhat misleading, because it seems like he scored about 19 of them in the last two weeks. That little sucker has been on fire. Some may be wary of signing the pending RFA - who currently has only a $725K cap hit - to an extension in light of his prior inconsistency, but Kennedy has the speed, the grit, and the shot to be a long-term contributor. Has anyone ever launched 234 shots in one season while playing about 12 minutes a game? Somebody look this up.
9. James Neal and Alexei Kovalev - Don't focus on the combined 3 goals in 25 games, or whatever the unflattering number actually is. These guys came on board at a time of pure desperation for a team with virtually no viable top-6 wingers. The Pens were playing with admirable fire, but when the bottom of your boat is reinforced with Brett Sterling, Corey Potter, and Nick Johnson, I have news for you, it's going to fall out. Like, any second. Neal and Kovalev gave the Penguins hope, renewed legitimacy, and points. Forget the goal totals, and remember them sealing shootout win after shootout win, pushing the Pens to within inches of the Flyers.
8. The Rookies - Nobody saw Mark Letestu, Ben Lovejoy, and Deryk Engelland coming. But when they arrived, Ray Shero locked them up for practically minimum wage. Genius.
|Coming Up With Formula For Cold Fusion While Watching Practice|
6. Chris Kunitz Goes From Overpaid to Underpaid to Vastly Underpaid - 23 Goals, 25 Assists, 48 Points, and a +18 in just 66 games. Those impressive numbers don't even come close to reflecting how valuable Hands of Straight Baby Thighs, Son was to this team. How's that Ryan Whitney trade looking?
5. Sidney Crosby Breaks the Water Bottle - Sid doesn't need to play in a game to send a message. Hold the line. Help is on the way.
4. Dan Bylsma Has Believability - "The standard is the standard," the coach likes to say. If by "the standard" you mean "wildly unrealistic overachievement," then yes, it is.
3. Kris Letang Spreads His Wings - Remember when you wondered if Letang could fill Sergei Gonchar's shoes? When's the last time you even thought about Sergei Gonchar? In case you were wondering, and you weren't, Sarge tallied 27 points and a -15 for Ottawa this season. Letang rang up 50 points and a +15, but those numbers don't come close to telling the story. He played 25 minutes a night, and on most of those nights he had the burden of playing shutdown defense and carrying the offense. You get tired just watching the guy. Eventually, this team will get healthy, and Letang will get back to a point-a-game pace. With a $3.5 million cap hit for the next three seasons, he is going to emerge as far and away the best bargain in the league. Mark it down.
2. The Depth of the Pacific Ocean - The Penguins had 15 players score at least 7 goals this season. They finished with 106 points despite playing significant stretches of the season without each of their top 5 centers. They traded their 5th defenseman, and he instantly became the top blueline threat in Dallas. I started using a life-size Dustin Jeffrey poster to chart my son's growth. 87 and 71 make any team look top-heavy. Look again.
1. The Flower