It’s been quite a year for the Pittsburgh Penguins. From the long-awaited return of “Pittsburgh Gold” to a gut-wrenching playoff collapse, we’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in 2014.
Here’s a look back at the year that was for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kris Letang Suffers Stroke
By all accounts, Kris Letang is one of the fittest athletes in the league. So, when the Penguins announced he had suffered a stroke at the end of January – needless to say – it was a bit shocking.
At the time, the Penguins believed he would miss at least six weeks. Many wrote off his season and expected him to be ready for training camp in the fall at the earliest.
However, Letang surprised us all when he returned to the lineup on April 9 against the Detroit Red Wings. He played 22:30 and had an assist in that their 4-3 shootout loss.
Pens Collapse, Blow 3-1 Series Lead Against Rangers
The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the second round of the playoffs fresh off a tough six-game series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins were the favorites in the series, but dropped Game 1 at home in overtime.
From there, the Pens rallied and ripped off three straight wins to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. They returned home for Game 5 and were soundly beaten 5-1 to send the series back to Broadway.
No big deal right? Winning four in a row against one team is pretty tough to do. They’ll come out better in Game 6 and wrap it up.
Game 7 on home ice – a situation they had been in several times under Dan Bylsma and never prevailed.
The streak has to end sometime right? In theory, yes, but not this year.
The Penguins fell 2-1 in Game 7, which triggered a massive roster and front office overhaul prior to the start of the 2014-15 season.
Ray Shero & Dan Bylsma Fired
This was certainly one of the oddest situations in recent memory with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Shortly after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers, the Penguins fired Ray Shero as the general manager.
On May 16, the Penguins announced a press conference. Within minutes word broke from a variety of media outlets here in town and across the United States and Canada, that both Dan Bylsma and Shero were out.
So, when David Morehouse announced that only Shero had been fired, we were all left wondering about Bylsma.
Morehouse essentially said Bylsma’s future was in the hands of a general manager to be named later.
A couple of weeks later, Jim Rutherford was hired and Bylsma was also relived of his duties.
Jim Rutherford & Mike Johnston Hired
Jim Rutherford was brought in to give the Penguins a new identity after five straight playoff failures. However, his first task was to find a replacement for Dan Bylsma.
There were several reports that the Penguins missed out on their first few choices. Believe what you want about that situation, but it was a little perplexing to see that process drag out as long as it did.
Eventually, the Penguins hired Mike Johnston away from the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Johnston had coached in the NHL before, but never as a head coach.
So far this season, the Penguins are 22-9-5 and are tied with the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Hopefully, next year’s recap will be talking about a fourth Stanley Cup coming to town.
NHL Draft – Neal Traded, Kapanen Drafted
The first big roster shakeup for the Penguins came during the NHL Draft. General Manager Jim Rutherford dealt James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist.
With their first selection, the Penguins drafted Finnish forward Kasperi Kapanen No, 22 overall.
Kapanen nearly made the team out of training camp, but was ultimately returned to his Finnish club.
“Pittsburgh Gold” Returns
At long last, the Pittsburgh Penguins brought back the iconic black and yellow or “Pittsburgh Gold” jerseys this season.
For the past few years, the Penguins’ third jerseys were either powder blue or navy and were designed for their two appearances in the Winter Classic.
This year’s rendition pays tribute to the early 1990s Penguins teams and they will wear them 12 times this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury even brought back his old-school yellow pads and gloves to match the jersey.
Over the years, Fleury has tailored his gear to the third jerseys. Most recently, he donned gold pads for the Outdoor Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
However, the crowning jewel of the ensemble is Fleury’s mask, which may remind Penguins fans of one Tom Barrasso used to wear.
Maatta Has Surgery On Cancerous Tumor
On Oct. 27, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Olli Maatta would undergo surgery to remove a thyroid gland tumor.
Initially, the Penguins believed he would be out about four weeks after the procedure. However, he started skating a week later and returned to game action a week after that.
However, Maatta would miss more time due to an upper-body injury and the mumps in December. However, he could return to the lineup in January.
Dupuis Out 6 Months With Blood Clot
Last season, Pascal Dupuis’ season came to an early end due to a knee injury. On Nov. 21, the Penguins announced Dupuis would be out for at least six months due to a blood clot in his lung.
It was also revealed that Dupuis was diagnosed with a blood clot back in January, while recovering from the torn ACL injury last season.
Dupuis said the feeling he had in November was exactly the same as what he experienced in January. For now, hockey will take a backseat as he focuses on recovering and his family.
“It’s not a great situation to be in, but that’s the cards I’ve been dealt. Hockey is definitely second on my mind right now,” Dupuis said.
Get well soon Duper!
The NHL has been dealing with an outbreak of the mumps this season. Several teams have been affected by it, including the Penguins.
It all started when Sidney Crosby tested positive in December and has spread from there.
Since then, Beau Bennett, Marc-Andre Fleury, Robert Bortuzzo, Olli Maatta, Thomas Greiss, Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter (just to name a few) have either tested positive or underwent testing for the virus.
As a result of the mumps and other injuries, the Penguins were without as many as 13 players for a December road trip in Florida.
The team has put some new policies in place to help curb the spread of the mumps.
No Penguins staff are allowed in the locker room unless they first get a mumps vaccination shot.
As a result, all staff, whether they go into the locker room or not, were being offered free immunizations.
There will be no more sharing water bottles or Gatorade on the bench and everyone has their own water bottle.
All equipment was sanitized and bottles of hand sanitizer were placed in the locker room.
MAF’s Hot Start
The Penguins have battled injuries, mumps and other ailments this season. However, Marc-Andre Fleury has arguably been the biggest reason the team finds itself tied for the lead in the Metropolitan Division heading into 2015.
Heading into the final day of 2014, Fleury holds a 19-6-3 record to go along with a 2.16 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
He ranks in the top ten in the league in wins, GAA and save percentage. However, he leads the league with six shutouts.
In November, the Penguins signed Fleury to a four-year-$23 million extension that runs through the 2018-19 season and carries a $5.75 million cap hit per year.
You can follow Casey Shea on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice
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