Losing defenseman Kris Letang for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a blow to the Pittsburgh Penguins chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions. But it won't define their spring. It won't eliminate them.
The Penguins are a championship contending team because they are a team. Their defensive depth is strong enough to rally. They can spread Letang's minutes around the way they have been doing for the past 23 games, going 13-7-3 without him, mind you.
You could argue that the Columbus Blue Jackets or Washington Capitals are better than the Penguins without Letang, but neither has shown the ability to win in the playoffs like the Penguins have.
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Yes they've had Letang, but one player doesn't define them. They're better than that and they deserve some credit.
Fast forward to the Stanley Cup Final and, assuming the favorite out of the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks, make it through, the narrative will be they're better than Pittsburgh with or without Letang.
In fact the Penguins depth players are more experienced than Chicago's and likely would be able to handle the playoff grind better. That might be the deciding factor in a Pittsburgh-Chicago Cup Final.
You could argue the Penguins won't repeat because they aren't healthy. In fact, they figure they will have every one of their regulars except Letang return either for Game 1 or shortly after, which means they should have the same level of depth, speed and skill that carried them to the championship last season.
You could argue exhaustion will catch up to the Penguins, as it does to so many teams who try to repeat, but considering many of their top players, including Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta, missed time in the last quarter of the regular season, that argument might not hold water. The Penguins should be fresh.
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The Penguins don't have Letang, but they have enough to repeat.
Matt Murray has proven his run in the playoffs last season wasn't a fluke. He maintains his ability to be remarkably unflappable regardless of the stakes.
Sidney Crosby is still the most dominant player in the NHL despite a push from Connor McDavid, the sensational captain of the Edmonton Oilers. Crosby continues to carry linemates who don't have star power but always produce when they play with him. These days, it's Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel.
Nick Bonino is one of the best third-line centers in the NHL. Phil Kessel is one of the most dangerous scorers and passers. Carl Hagelin is one of the top shutdown forwards when healthy, dominant on the forecheck and never out of a play because of his speed.
Matt Cullen is a solid, reliable and offensively adept fourth-line center.
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The Penguins are deep enough on defense that they might scratch Mark Streit, who would be in the top six on most teams.
Pittsburgh has been dominant at home, finishing the regular season 31-6-4 at PPG Paints Arena, and has a top-five power play. Moreover, the Penguins take over games in the second period and put them away in the third. They are the highest scoring team in the NHL after the first period.
Why will they win the Cup? Why won't they?