Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Look Back at the Pittsburgh Penguins 2008-9 Season

It seems like ages ago, but the Pens once started their season in Stockholm, Sweden playing 2 games against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 4th and 5th. They split both games against Jarko Ruutu and company. The Pens had a tough task beginning the season knowing that star defenseman Sergei Gonchar would be injured for most of the year. He was injured on a hit in a pre-season game by David Koci of the TB lightning.

Defenseman Ryan Whitney was already injured and set to return from surgery 3 months into the season. He made his debut Dec. 23rd. Around mid-November the Pens were 11-4-2. And playing very well, especially Satan and Sykora. As December and January came around, the Pens were posting a win-lose combination. There was no consistency in the Pens game and Michel Therrien's days as the Pens head coach were beginning to get numbered. After a very shaky road trip posting losses to Nashville, Colorado the Pens played a trapping style and defeated the Flyers 4-2 in Philly. After that game it felt like the Pens were turning the corner, but the same trend continued.

The Pens continued to win 1 lose 1 from January-early February. Defeating teams such as the SJ Sharks (1st place in the West.) and the Rangers, but losing to teams like the Maple Leafs (7-3 and 6-2) and the Islanders. Shero had notified Therrien in mid-January that he needs to help turn this around or his job might be in jeapordy. After a 6-2 loss in Toronto on Valentine's Day, Michel Therrien was fired as the Pens head coach the next day (Sunday). WB/Scranton head coach of the Baby Pens, Dan Bylsma was brought in to save the day. He was joined by former NHL player Tom Fitzgerald as an assistant (assistant coach. Andre Savard was let go as well). Bylsma's first game as a Pens coach featured an overtime loss to the Islanders on Long Island. But from there the wheels quickly began turning. Bylsma introduced an up-tempo offensive system as opposed to Therriens defensive approach. The players lost faith in Therrien's system, he was too strict with the players and no one was having fun anymore. Blysma was much more friendly and jovial, and used the Pens offensive talent to the best advantage.

After a 1-0 victory vs. the Isles at home on Feb. 25th, the Pens began a 5-game road trip which would change the season around. On Feb. 26th the Pens traded D Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi. Whitney was a big part of the Pens team, especially the power play. But he wasn't playing as well after his surgery and with the emergence of D Kris Letang, Whitney was expendable. Chris Kunitz wasn't brought in as the "scoring winger" for Crosby. He was a hard nosed and gritty player who knew how to win and played the game with an edge. Kunitz made a big splash in his debut in Chicago with a 5-4 OT Pens win. The Pens went 5-0 on the road trip facing slumping Dallas and Tampa, but also their playoff contender in Florida.

On March 4th the NHL trading deadline took place. One of the most exciting days of hockey featured several big trades including Olli Jokinen going to Calgary, Nik Antropov/Derek Morris to NYR, Cole to Carolina, etc. One of the most underlooked trades which turned out to have the biggest impact was Billy Guerin from NYI to the Pens. The 38 year-old veteran went from being the captain on the worst team in the league to being a winger with one of the best players in the world. Guerin quickly made an impact with huge games at Florida on March 5th. and in Wash. on a Sunday afternoon. After that win against the Capitals in OT, the Pens were quietly rising in the standings and regaining their 2008 playoff run form. The Pens also added Craig Adams off waivers from Chicago to their roster on March 4th.

The Pens went from 10th place in the East Conf. to 4th after a 3-1 season ending win vs. the Habs in Montreal. The Pens were in a very tight battle the last 3 weeks of the season with the Flyers and Canes for that 4th spot, and the all important home-ice advantage. After the Canes slumped a couple games at the end, the Flyers also choked after giving up a 2-0 lead to Sean Avery and the NYR. As a result they lost home-ice to the Pens and were forced to go to Mellon Arena for the first 2 games of Rd. 1.

Season highlights incude the Pens being demolished by the Panthers 6-1 in January and then Crosby responds by pulling the jersey over Brett Mclean and beating him up pretty badly. Other great moments include the Pens beating the 1st place Bruins 6-4 in March and Chris Kunitz nothes a hat trick. Earlier in the year in a win against the Thrashers, Fedotenko knocks out former Pen Colby Armstrong, but break his hand in the process. On March 5th the Pens fire 47 shots on Vokoun and the Panthers and win 4-1. We were behind the Panthers in the standings at the time and this was a huge game. Kennedy had 2 goals. The most entertaining game was the one in Wash. on March 8th. Crosby and Ovechkin were whining and shoving each other, Cooke was hitting people left and right, Guerin got his first goal as a Penguin, and the Pens won in a SO 4-3.

Pens playoff recap will be up tomorrow.

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