Looking back, the Penguins’ 2010-11 campaign was certainly an interesting ride. But while the going got bumpy at times, the team never once strayed from their path and learned just how much they're capable of in the face of adversity.
So while April 29 was the earliest in four years that the Penguins gathered at the arena one final time to pack up their sticks and gear and say their last goodbyes, the players plan on using the lessons they learned from their early exit to make them an even better, more experienced squad.
|The Penguins' inaugural season at CONSOL Energy Center is officially in the books. |
“We were up 3-1 in a series we should have won and we didn't do it,” forward Mike Rupp said. “With that said, you just have to learn from your wins and learn from your losses.”
Defenseman Kris Letang
agreed, saying “It’s disappointing to finish in the first round. But at the same time, it’s just a question of learning and just maybe not doing the same mistakes over.”RELATED: Penguins Report: Closing Time 2011 >>
And while a first-round exit is tough to swallow, there are so many positives to take from this season and so much to look forward to come September.
The Penguins had a magnificent first half, highlighted by opening a brand-new barn in CONSOL Energy Center, their 12-game winning streak (the second-longest streak in team history and 11th-best run in NHL history) and captain Sidney Crosby
’s 25-game scoring streak.
The team also handled the pressure of hosting the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic and filming HBO Sports’ “24/7: Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic” reality series with focus and poise.
And when adversity struck in the second half of the season in terms of injuries – primarily with Sidney Crosby
missing the last 41 games and Evgeni Malkin
sitting out the final 29 contests, in addition to Brooks Orpik
, Paul Martin
and Chris Kunitz
missing time, to name a few – the team couldn't have responded any better.
|Sidney Crosby addressing the media for the final time for the 2010-11 season. |
Other clubs could have folded under such circumstances, but not this one. Instead, the Penguins continued to go to battle with the guys they did have in the dressing room and those players stepped up in a big way, leading the team to finish with second-most points (106) and wins (49) in franchise history. RELATED: 2011 Get Away Day Photo Gallery >>
“I think we surprised a lot of people with the way we finished the season,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “We definitely had a lot of injuries, missing some key guys, and our captain. I’m proud of the way the team played, still battling for first place there at the end.
“I think a lot of guys stepped it up and had a great season. I think we’ll count on these same guys next season, and plus we’ll have ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno.’ That’s always our goal coming to camp, trying to win the Cup at the end.”
Speaking of coming to camp, the Penguins will be in great shape come September.
Crosby and Malkin are scheduled to be ready to return to game action by that time, while the Penguins’ entire defensive corps – Kris Letang
, Brooks Orpik
, Paul Martin
, Zbynek Michalek
, Matt Niskanen
, Ben Lovejoy
and Deryk Engelland
– is under contract for next season.
The other players under contract for next season include Jordan Staal
, Chris Kunitz
, James Neal
and Mark Letestu. There's also a boatload of promising prospects in the pipeline, including young forwards Dustin Jeffrey
and Eric Tangradi
, who each made their mark with Pittsburgh this season.RELATED: Penguins 2010-11 Season in Photos >>
I think our expectations should be the same as it is every year. We want to win. I don’t see why that should change. I think if anything, what we went through this year should make our team even better, to be honest. What we were able to do – I think half of Wilkes-Barre was here at one point – I think that’s pretty incredible what we were able to do. - Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
That’s good news looking ahead for Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who will be forced to make many tough decisions this summer in order to build the best possible team around that core group of players.
“As you look forward, we have a lot of good pieces in place that are signed, world-class players,” Shero said. “That’s the facet that we move forward on, that these core guys are back in place and surround them and hopefully make the right decisions on our free agents that complement these players.”
So while the 2010-11 campaign didn’t have the ending everyone wished it did, the Penguins are still proud of what they were able to accomplish and are excited to see what they’re capable of for the 2011-12 season.
“I think our expectations should be the same as it is every year. We want to win. I don’t see why that should change,” Crosby said. “I think if anything, what we went through this year should make our team even better, to be honest. What we were able to do – I think half of Wilkes-Barre was here at one point – I think that’s pretty incredible what we were able to do. … We didn’t break stride with what we were trying to do. I think that’s going to help everyone, including me and Geno and all the guys that were out. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure our game is where it needs to be when we start next year.”