Pittsburgh Penguins Regular-Season Recap: Evgeni Malkin Team's MVP, Matt Niskanen Most Improved

April 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) talk on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Penguins wrapped up the 2011-12 regular season on Saturday and will face the rvial Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is a look back at how this year's team fared.

The Penguins finished the regular season Saturday afternoon with a 4-2 win against the hated Philadelphia Flyers. The Pens will face those same Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center. A preview of that matchup is due next, but before that let’s look back and review a very successful regular season.

Before the Penguins began their 2011-12 campaign, I made a few guesses over at my blog, The Incline, as to how certain members of the team would fare in a little game of "over/under". Below I listed my predictions, and as you can see, some of those turned out to be right. I’ll recap some of those predictions as well as naming the team’s MVP and other valuable contributors. My preseason predictions are in bold.

Over/Under 49.5 Goals for Evgeni Malkin: UNDER (wrong).

29.5 Goals for James Neal: OVER (correct).

22.5 Goals for Tyler Kennedy: UNDER (correct).

59.5 Games Played by Sidney Crosby: OVER (very wrong).

1.5 Suspensions for Matt Cooke: UNDER (correct).

0.5 Power Play Goals for the Pens: OVER (correct!).

Four out of six isn’t terrible. I expected around 45 goals for Malkin this season, but as we all know, he went into superhuman territory at times during the season and hit the 50 mark, becoming only the sixth Russian player to accomplish that feat. Obviously, the Sidney Crosby prediction was way off the mark. However, I’d rather have a healthy Crosby right now going into the playoffs rather than an injured one who played 60 regular season games. Tyler Kennedy proved to be overpaid and a disappointment. Matt Cooke reformed his old ways and had fewer penalty minutes than Evgeni Malkin. And of course, the last prediction was made in jest after the Lightning series last year when the Pens power play went bone dry. They rebounded nicely this year, but it will still need to produce more against the Flyers.

Here are some awards:

Team MVP: Evgeni Malkin, C. Geno came into the season stronger, healthy and more focused than ever before. Malkin carried the Pens in the absence of Sidney Crosby and made his line one of the most feared in hockey. James Neal blossomed on Malkin’s wing scoring a career high 40 goals. Malkin also helped Chris Kunitz reach his career high in goals with 26. What more needs to be said about Malkin? His line-mates had career years and Malkin is likely to receive the Hart Trophy given to the league’s MVP. This is a no-brainer.

Most Improved Player: Matt Niskanen, D. This is a close one for me. I’m tempted to give this to Matt Cooke for both his play and the fact that he managed not to maim any opponents this season. However, given the fact that Niskanen was considered a "throw-in" in the Neal trade, I have to give it the man formerly known as "Riskanen." Niskanen’s play this year has ranged from solid to dependable to greatly-missed. Niskanen brings both dependable defense and a solid offensive game. He deserves some recognition for his solid play that many, including myself, did not expect.

Unsung Heroes: Pascal Dupuis/Chris Kunitz, F. 51 goals between these two? Are you serious? Two incredible seasons for two "glue" guys. Dupuis and Kunitz are the types of players you need to win a cup. They make the little plays. They muck and grind. You really can’t say much more about these two other than their contributions this season should not go unnoticed. Expect more from these guys in the playoffs, whether it’s a little play leading to a goal or a game changing hit.

Most Disappointing Player: Tyler Kennedy, F. Kennedy or Jagr? Whoops.

Goal of the season:

A goal that only an MVP could produce. So there it is. We all know the regular season means nothing, but the Pens had a great one. The sky is the limit for this team as long as it's healthy. The Flyers pose an enormous challenge in the first round, and I’ll preview that matchup in the coming days. The best season is now upon us, buckle up.

For more on the Penguins, be sure to check out PensBurgh.

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