The Penguins can match defense and goaltending with anybody, abilities that will deliver the Steel City its second Stanley Cup in three years.
The Big Why:Evgeni Malkin is out and Sidney Crosby is questionable, but the Penguins have reinvented themselves as a defense-first club. Pittsburgh's defense corps is one of the best in the NHL, and it is certainly among the best in the East. It is also a healthy group -- something that is a problem for fellow contenders Philadelphia and Washington.
The Penguins also pair that strong defense corps with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has proven he can play well in the postseason. Pittsburgh can match goal prevention with anyone, and the Penguins also have plenty of Stanley Cup-winning experience upon which to lean.
The Big Uh-Oh: Pittsburgh has struggled to score without Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins outwork teams, but fail to finish the chances they have to work so hard to generate. They will have to keep scoring in games low, and playing with the lead will be tantamount.
The Penguins also haven't had a lot of success against the top teams in the East this season. They were 5-9 against Washington, Philadelphia and Boston.
The Final Argument: Pittsburgh is 23-13-5since Crosby went out of the lineup. The Penguins have proven they still have enough talent to be competitive without their captain. If Crosby were to return, it might not only give the Penguins a huge emotional lift, but may well make them the best team in the East.
They were in first place when Crosby was injured, and while Malkin is tough to replace, the combination of Alex Kovalev, James Neal and increased minutes for Jordan Staal should be enough to help the Penguins ride Fleury and a strong defense to second Cup in three years.
I definitely think going back down helped me, I had a lot of confidence down there, I played a lot of minutes and I think that helped me a lot. With the 37 games up here, that gave me experience as well. I know what it takes to play in the NHL and now it's time for me to show that I'm capable of being a full-time NHL player.
— Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl on finishing the 2014-15 season in juniors after playing 37 games with Edmonton to begin the season