Five Questions from the dark side

If you have been a reader of Die by the Blade for awhile you know that we sometimes do a feature called "Five Questions". It's kind of fun and we get a perspective from the enemy regarding an upcoming game.  Today we did Five Questions with Frank D of Pensburgh and Frank asked me five questions as well.  If you are interested in reading what I had to say check it out here.  If you are interested in a Penguins perspective make sure to check out the PensBlog as well.

1.  The last time we did a five questions feature was the Winter Classic (God that seems so long ago), at that time we had no idea where the Sabres or the Penguins were headed this season.  At the present moment the Penguins are competing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference while the Sabres might miss the playoffs.  What has been the single most important reason for the Penguins climb to the top?

The Pens have really been on the receiving end of a lot of crucial injuries this year.  In fact, only two players on the active roster (Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin) have played in all 70 games this year.  That should pretty much gauge just how critical injuries have been.  With that in mind, I'd have to say the single thing that contributed so much to the Pens' success this year is their depth throughout the system.  There's been countless call-ups from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and a lot of action from guys like Ryan Malone, Max Talbot and Kris Letang.  If it weren't for the team's success getting through these injuries, they'd most likely be looking to just squeeze into the playoffs right about now.

Editor's Note:  Frank mentioned that the Penguins depth was the single most important reason for the Penguins success this season and this is an area the Sabres are lacking.  Last year when guys were injured the Sabres called guys up that would contribute and this year they did not have anyone to step up.  The Sabres lack of depth has been a big deal and it has been painfully obvious how much the lack of depth has hurt this year.

2.  When Sidney Crosby was injured there were plenty of people who thought the Pens were in big trouble.  Instead we seen Evgeni Malkin emerge into the superstar he was believed to be.  Were you at all surprised at how well Malkin played in the absence of Sidney Crosby?

Not so much surprised as I was satisfied.  The guy is totally capable of doing it and he no doubt showed it.  I think sometimes he tries to force the chemistry with Crosby.  Malkin packs a strong, accurate shot but often tries to finesse the puck too much via passing and sifting through defenders.  When Sid was out, it became the Malkin show.  But once Crosby came back, Malkin went back to trying to make (and force) the perfect play.  There's been some talk about keeping them on seperate power play units for this sheer factor.

3.  When Marc-Andre Fluery was injured early in the season, Ty Conklin emerged as a top NHL goalie.  With Fluery now back in the fold who will the Pens turn to down the stretch and in the playoffs?  Fluery or Conklin?

Eesh - hard to say.  Part of me would like to think they'd give Conklin the reigns when you consider how he bailed the team out this year.  But on a similar note, Fleury has come back from his injury stronger than before and is looking like he's ready to lead the team down the stretch.  The two goalie system has worked wonders in the past for Pittsburgh (Barrasso, Wregget) and may rear its head up again come playoff time.  The controversy has been good for both players, who really are out to prove to one another, the coaches and most importantly the fans that they are ready and willing to lead.  Every goal given up is more than just a goal for the other team.  It also poses as one less chance they'll be starting the next game.  Oddly enough, a situation like this works amazing for goalies.

4.  The Penguins made a huge statement when they traded for Marian Hossa at the trade deadline.  There are many people, myself included, that feel the Penguins gave up too much for Hossa.  What are your thoughts on the Penguins decision to acquire Hossa?

Well I'll be honest, I think it was a big move that has to produce bigger results.  A lot of people overlook Pascal Dupuis in this trade (probably because Hossa has yet to play for the Pens), but Dupuis has really meshed well with Crosby on the first line/power play and does a great job on the penalty kill.  Guys like Colby Armstrong are a dime a dozen on the ice, but rare commodities in the locker room.  He was a morale guy, the Flava Flave to Sid's Chuck D if you will.  Christensen was a phenomenal shootout artist but lacked confidence in other areas of his play.  Flat out, I think the biggest sacrifice the Pens made in the Hossa/Dupuis deal was giving up the first round pick.  Angelo Esposito has shown signs on inconsistency, sensitivity to injury and a dramatic drop in his overall performance.  The #1 pick is really the sacrifice, but ultimately what probably completed the deal.  

5.  In your honest opinion, do the Pittsburgh Penguins have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup in 2008?

As you'd imagine I'm a bit biased but I'm going to say yes.  The deal for Hossa was a championship move.  The expectations now have officially gone through the roof and not many are willing to settle for anything less than the cup.  Hossa may find himself in another sweater come July, but his job is pretty simple right now.  Get on the ice, work with the talent you have (Malkin, Crosby, Malone) and bring the cup back to Pitt.

Editor's Note: The Penguins definitely have a chance at the Stanley Cup.  The Eastern Conference is wide open and the West is stacked.  The Western Conference teams could beat the hell out of each other in the playoffs and be tired by the time they meet the East.

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