The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway and what better way to mark the occasion than with an all-Penguins edition of the Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings. Okay, sure, there are maybe better ways. But this is definitely a way. Just read it, please.
10. Time management
It’s playoff season. Hooray! It’s also the season of devoting three hours every other night to yelling at your television. Any life goals or work demands or social expectations or simple, personal hygiene maintenance will fall to the wayside to watch the Penguins play ice hockey. This is your life now and the BEST-case scenario is that it stays like this way until mid-June. You will accomplish nothing as long as the Penguins are in the playoffs. And it’s awesome.
9. Human frailty
The Penguins couldn’t even get through Game 1 warm-ups without another one of their top players getting injured. Matt Murray tweaked something — something in his “lower body” — before the puck dropped, and the Penguins were forced to play Marc-Andre Fleury in net. That ended up working out quite well, as Fleury dominated the game.
But the ideal scenario is that the Penguins figure out a way to make it through a single game without someone snapping, tearing or shattering.
8. John Tortorella
John Tortorella easily could have been ranked last in The Rankings on account of his Tortorellian ways. Or, if the topic was changed to “humiliating John Tortorella,” the No. 1 spot in The Power Rankings was a real option, too.
Either way, beating Columbus is always extra sweet because of how much the Blue Jackets head coach hates the Penguins. Expect the strategic mastermind — the man who thinks playing winning hockey in 2017 stems from size and hitting and instigating — to tell his team to do more of this kind of thing as the series goes on.
If Columbus is going to lose, Tortorella will want them to lose as ugly as possible.
7. Game 1 projecting
See how dismissive of the Blue Jackets’ chances in the series I just was? That comes from Game 1 projecting, a dreaded fan mistake in which we watch the opening game in a seven-game series and decide: “Well, this is how things will be for all of eternity now.” The Penguins got the win in the opener, which is obviously ideal, but we’re all one game and a bad puck bounce or two away from proclaiming: “The Blue Jackets have the momentum in the series now heading to Columbus. Ohmigod the Penguins are bad and will never win another Cup!”
6. Brandon Saad
Remember two off-seasons ago how trading for the Pine-Richland product was supposedly the only chance the Penguins had of being Cup contenders again? He’s done well for the Blue Jackets since arriving in Columbus, but didn’t do much in Game 1, registering a single shot in 14 minutes of ice time. However, if Saad scores every goal for the Blue Jackets as Pittsburgh closes out the series 10-1, 14-1 and 25-1, that would be just fine.
5. Ron Hainsey
After 14 years in the NHL, the 36-year old Ron Hainsey finally played in his first playoff game Wednesday night and played well. He is now undefeated in his postseason career, something even Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky never accomplished. Is Ron Hainsey the greatest postseason hockey player of all-time? Definitely a storyline to watch.
4. The outdoor screen
It’s back. And until the Pirates start playing better, it’s the best place to watch sports outdoors in Pittsburgh this spring.
3. Phil Kessel
Yeah, he’s Philin’ it. pic.twitter.com/cndvYHxBri
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 13, 2017
Kessel had a goal and an assist in the opener, picking up right where he left off last postseason. (Luckily Tortorella kept him off the World Cup team, so he’s extra-fresh for the playoffs. Thanks, John!) Maybe everyone should prepare for the sentence: “Phil Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup champion.”
2. Bryan Rust
The Penguins ran away with Game 1 in the second period, and it was Bryan Rust’s goal that put them up 1-0 and opened the floodgates. After Rust’s big postseason during last year’s Cup run, his latest tally clinches his spot as the modern Max Talbot: A role player who has a knack for scoring big postseason goals.
As for the original Max Talbot, he joined everyone else in falling in love all over again with Marc-Andre Fleury:
1. Winning the trade deadline / Marc-Andre Fleury
Fleury: “I was a little nervous in the beginning. At the end it was a great feeling, a fun game to win.”
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 13, 2017
A wise man once said: “Sometimes it isn’t what you do at the trade deadline, it is what you do not do.” I don’t know who said that — maybe it was Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, maybe it was me just now — but keeping Fleury all season looks pretty smart at this point. Is Fleury now the Penguins’ No. 1? Who knows. But after 31 saves in a game he didn’t know he was playing in until just before the anthem, he definitely is the No. 1 in this week’s Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings.