2013 NHL Season: 5 Items the Pittsburgh Penguins Need to Address
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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, making the 2012 NHL lockout history. Before the season starts, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a few major things they need to address.
With Sidney Crosby back on the ice, the Penguins were a favorite to win the 2012 Stanley Cup. Reality couldn’t have been any different, as they fell apart and were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.
That opened eyes to some serious problems that Pittsburgh needs to address to be contenders for Lord Stanley’s hardware this season.
While it’s given them time to think about how to approach some problems plaguing the franchise, the lockout has also created some problems.
Let’s take a look at the handful of problems the Penguins are faced with.
5. Goaltending Situation
Marc-Andre Fleury didn't do so well in the 2012 playoffs.
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The Penguins actually did a lot to address the goaltending situation by bringing in Tomas Vokoun to back up Marc-Andre Fleury.
There is still work to be done in this department, though. Signing Vokoun doesn’t solve the problem—it all depends on how they use him.
Fleury has played in at least 62 games in all of his last four seasons and is at risk of getting burnt out. The fact that he’s had a save percentage above .900 in only one of his last four playoff runs shows he’s already getting burnt out.
He can’t be blamed for the team’s early exit from the playoffs. It was a combination of many factors—no discipline, trouble killing penalties and poor defense in front of the net, to name a few. However, Fleury did show signs of burnout.
Vokoun has all the talent to be a full-time starting goalie. He’s shown this throughout his career. His performance with the Washington Capitals was a big factor in the team making the playoffs.
The best scenario would probably see the two sharing the starting role. That should help both men stay in prime condition, especially when the playoffs roll around.
No matter how they split time in the net, having Vokoun as a backup will push Fleury. This is the first time Fleury has had such an elite backup. Surely he knows that Blysma won’t hesitate to start Vokoun if needed.
The Penguins could use more guys like Aaron Asham.
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The Penguins have never had trouble scoring. With the addition of Brandon Sutter, they’ve also made strides in adding more defensive prowess to their squad of forwards.
Toughness is still a big area of weakness, though.
The Philadelphia Flyers exposed exactly how easy it can be to power around the Penguins’ defense. Once they started forcing the Penguins’ scorers back, discipline went out the window and the Penguins started taking bad penalties.
They have their depth forwards that they can rely on to grind it out with the opposition. Beyond that, there’s not much toughness on the roster.
In 2011-12, the Penguins tied the Florida Panthers for 11th fewest fighting penalties. They could benefit greatly from adding some muscle to the lineup. A big depth forward and a hard-hitting defenseman could go a long way.
Until then, the Penguins will struggle to keep up in the Eastern Conference and will continue to come up short in the Stanley Cup race.
3. How to Arrange Their Top Lines
Dan Blysma will be auditioning a linemate for Malkin and Neal.
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Sidney Crosby’s ongoing concussion issues forced the Penguins to shake up the top lines a bit last season. Evgeni Malkin and James Neal found plenty of success—the pairing totaled an astonishing 190 points!
According to NBC Sports, head coach Dan Blysma is set on the trio of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis. That line worked very well for the club back in 2010-11.
That takes a line pairing Malkin and Crosby out of the equation. While a tandem of two of the NHL’s biggest offensive threats is tempting, it’s better to separate the two and form two potent lines.
The aforementioned NBC Sports article focuses on Blysma’s search for a linemate for Malkin and Neal.
Among the top candidates for the job are Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Tanner Glass. Brandon Sutter hasn’t been ruled out, but he’ll likely be found centering a third line of grinders.
Kennedy is considered the favorite. He has the offensive mindset and speed to more than keep up with Malkin and Neal.
The question is which line will be the first line? Crosby found himself centering the second line upon his return in late 2012. It wouldn’t be surprising for the Penguins to stick with the formula that worked throughout 2011-12 and give Malkin and Neal the top spots.
2. Penalty Kill
Brandon Sutter has the potential to be a leading penalty killer for the Penguins.
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The penalty kill was a major factor in the Penguins’ early elimination from the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. They had a total of eight power play goals-against and killed off less than half their penalties.
This was a huge change from how their penalty-killing unit performed in the regular season. The Penguins were ranked third in the NHL for successfully killing 86.9 percent of the opposition’s power plays.
To put it in perspective, they allowed eight PP goals in six games in the playoffs, but only 11 more than that in 82 regular season games.
The addition of more defensively-minded forwards like Brandon Sutter should help them in this regard.
However, the Penguins lost Jordan Staal in the trade that brought Sutter. Staal, who has a knack for scoring shorthanded goals, had been a huge offensive threat on the PK.
The penalty kill played a major role in taking the Penguins to the 2012 playoffs. If anything, the unit’s abysmal performance in the playoffs showed the team exactly how vital it is when it comes to postseason performance.
They should shoot for what the PK squad was achieving during the 2011-12 regular season and look to maintain that same strength through the playoffs.
1. The Fact That Crosby Hasn’t Been Playing
Sidney Crosby practicing during the lockout.
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As if Sidney Crosby didn’t miss enough playing time due to his concussion struggles, he stuck around to work with the NHLPA during the labor negotiations.
Because of this, Crosby missed another three months of competitive hockey. Other teammates, like Malkin, headed overseas to continue doing what they do best.
That’s not to say Crosby isn’t in shape. He’s been practicing throughout the lockout.
The biggest thing to watch is how months without competition will impact Crosby’s game. Practicing and preseason training camp can only go so far. While the league’s stars played competitively in Europe, Crosby was stranded in America doing what he could to salvage the season.
Even so, if Crosby has trouble getting back into the swing of things, it can only keep him down for so long. As one of the best players in the world, he shouldn’t struggle too much with adjusting.
However, with a 48-game season, every game counts. Let’s hope it doesn’t take Crosby too long to get back into it.