"Eyes on the Enemy" is a continuing bi-annual series on the NY Rangers Blog giving fans updates on the Rangers closest rivals. Part 4 of the Olympic version of 'EotE' will focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Any contract figures listed below are courtesy of capgeek.com
Standings: 40-15-3 (36 ROW) Sixteen points ahead of NYR for first in Metro; Five points ahead of Boston for home ice through out playoffs.
Record vs. NYR: 2-1-1 (Season series completed)
Available Trade Deadline Cap Space: $2,585,000 (LTIR)
It's hard to believe that given the laundry list of injuries the Penguins have taken on this season, some actually catastrophic in nature, notably Kris Letang (stroke) and Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in the mix for the Presidents Trophy At points, the Penguins were forced into lineups with an AHL squad combined with the two top goal scorers in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and have barely missed a beat. Even coach Dan Bylsma and the way he guided Team USA to an embarrassing fourth place finish in the Olympics is probably in line for a Jack Adams nomination for his work in not letting the Penguins falter with the top guns out of the lineup.
We all know that Marc Andre Fleury has been a frequent target of criticism among writers and fans alike for his inability to step up in the big moments. Sure Fleury has had his issues in the playoffs, (getting bombarded by Philly in 2012, backed up Vokoun in 2013 due to poor play) but is also a big part of the reason why the Penguins are where they are in the standings right now. When Vokoun went down during the preseason for a blood clot in his leg that could have threatened not only his career but his overall well being, a lot of extra pressure was thrown onto Fleury's shoulders that would've derailed this season before it even started. Turns out Fleury is well on pace to have his best statistical season of his career in goals against, save percentage and shutouts. Although Vokoun is attempting to work himself back into playing shape for the homestretch of the season, it will be interesting to see if Fleury, yet again, regresses to what has gotten him criticized in the past or if he's able to turn into the goalie that guided the Penguins to two consecutive trips to Stanley Cup Finals not all that long ago. A new long term contract hinges on it.
The Penguins haven't been shy in acquiring additional goal scorers as rentals to go along with Crosby and Malkin to make runs at the Cup. However, due to the hand injury sustained to Paul Martin during the Olympics, acquiring NHL quality defensive help could be a higher priority. Another glaring hole the Penguins have is at right wing. After James Neal are a bunch of plug and play AHL'ers with the opportunity to get top minutes playing alongside Crosby. Ryan Callahan as we all know has been thrown around in rumors, but I can't imagine the Rangers giving up Callahan to a team inside the division without getting anything close to a kings' ransom in return. The one thing that could also hinder any plans the Penguins may have is simply the lack of cap space which wasn't an issue in recent years. As mentioned above, it will be fascinating to see what Penguins team shows up in April. The way Pittsburgh went out in the conference finals last season was rumored to have nearly costed Bylsma his job. Would another embarrassing exit seal the deal?
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Despise the Penguins. Great team, by the standard of speed and scoring, but when they try and be tough, they falter. Their biggest mistake is how they play the Bruins. They basically try to out-Bruin the Bruins. I love watching Boston get under their skin, it's good hockey. That being said, under the right conditions (Boston not progressing in the playoffs by some fluke, or upset) they could make a run at the cup and would be difficult to beat. Any Western Conference team would have to muscle them, score enough, and have excellent goaltending every single game. Would be a great series.