The successful return of Sidney Crosby changed everything in the Eastern Conference. Maybe the entire league. Because right now, it's impossible to find anyone around the league who has anything critical to say about the Penguins.
"For me, they're the beasts in the East," one NHL source said. "I don't think anybody touches them."
The only criticism comes from within, which makes them even more dangerous. The Penguins have every ingredient: strength down the middle, secondary scoring, elite goaltending and playoff experience. Maybe their best attribute is their evolution into a dressing room that holds itself accountable and is nearly impossible to satisfy. They may be the Stanley Cup favorites to those on the outside, but that doesn't mean anything on the inside.
"That just comes with the territory when you have the top-echelon guys. I don't think our locker room believes it," said Penguins forward Chris Kunitz during a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation. "We have a lot of work to do. Losing a couple of high-scoring games is something we can't do in the playoffs. If we want to win we have to turn that part of the game back on. We have a lot of areas to grow as a team."
PENGUINS PLAYOFF SCOUTING REPORT
To prepare for the playoffs, Craig Custance checked in with a number of NHL coaches, players and scouts to get their take on the pivotal elements of every playoff team, including the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Key strength: Their centers. Evgeni Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal give Pittsburgh strength down the middle no team can match. "They've got the best center ice in the National Hockey League, and it's not even close," an NHL source said. "There's no No. 2."