It's been almost three months to the date since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in Detroit. In that time, a fair amount has changed. Departed are veterans Rob Scuderi, Petr Sykora, Miroslav Satan and a few others.
The Penguins enjoyed their victory parade down the Boulevard of the Allies and their time with the Stanley Cup, but now their focus shifts to a new season. And some new expectations, as well. For once, they want to defend their title, instead of pursuing a championship.
That road to another Stanley Cup begins tonight at Mellon Arena, when the Penguins play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While it may only be a preseason contest, the game will allow many new faces to get some experience at the NHL level and possibly win them a job on the regular season roster.
Here are several things to expect from the Penguins, and a few things not to expect.
1. Expect to see Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins captain will be the first-line center tonight, as he so often is. No day off for Sid, who wants to pick up right where he left off last year, when he led the playoffs in goals.
Crosby will be paired with usual left winger Chris Kunitz, while also paired with rookie right wing Eric Tangradi, as Bill Guerin takes the night off. Tangradi, who also came over in the Ryan Whitney trade with Anaheim along with Kunitz, will play in his first game in a Penguin uniform.
Crosby, who also suffered a knee injury in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, has shown no effects of the injury so far in training camp.
2. Don't Expect to see Evgeni Malkin.
Two weeks ago, Malkin was wearing a Metallurg Magnitogorsk jersey and celebrating his Stanley Cup victory with many of his former teammates.
While he was involved in a scrimmage earlier today, he will not be part of the Penguin lineup against Columbus as he will receive the night off.
3. Expect to get a look at 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres.
Despres, a 6'4" defenseman from Saint John, will get his first action in the NHL tonight. At only 18, Despres has been lauded for his defensive capabilities, as he plays a very similar style to the recently departed Rob Scuderi.
He will be paired with veteran Sergei Gonchar on the first line, and should see considerable playing time. After participating in rookie camp earlier, he has also been a steady contributor in camp so far.
It's not impossible for him to potentially make the roster either. A few years ago, an 18-year-old Jordan Staal made the Penguins roster right out of camp.
4. Don't Expect to hear usual Mellon Arena PA announcer John Barbero.
John Barbero has been the arena PA announcer for more than 30 years, but a medical condition has forced him to be unable to call tonight's game. He will be replaced by 37-year-old Ryan Mill of Cranberry.
We wish the best of luck to Mill and a speedy recovery to Barbero.
5. Expect to see training camp invite Ryan Bayda.
Only three months ago, Ryan Bayda was in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform, taking the ice at RBC Center against the Penguins. Now, he has a tryout with the team that knocked the Hurricanes out in four games.
Bayda, a scrappy role player who Craig Adams said he was "surprised" to see unsigned over the summer, will be on a line with diminutive forward Chris Conner and Dustin Jeffrey.
Bayda has also expressed a love for Pittsburgh and wants to make an impression on his new team. The Penguins have over $1.6 million in cap space remaining, so signing him would be possible if he plays well enough.
6. Don't Expect to see the Stanley Cup.
The game will be the Penguins' first at Mellon Arena since winning the Cup, but Lord Stanley's grail should be nowhere in sight. After a summer of touring around the globe, the Penguins have removed the thoughts of the Cup from their minds and are focused on the new season.
7. Expect to see Marc-Andre Fleury.
The last sight Penguin fans saw of Fleury was his diving save with a second left in the third period against Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Fleury will be back in action tonight, at least for two periods of action anyway.
While he is hardly trying to earn a roster spot with the Penguins, he is trying to make a case for why he should be a part of Canada's Olympic roster in February.
He is scheduled to play the first two periods and then be replaced by 23-year-old Brad Thiessen. Thiessen, who was the starter for Northeastern University last year, decided to give up his senior year and sign with the Penguins.
8. Lastly, Don't Expect to see Stanley Cup level hockey.
The level of hockey in preseason games is never particularly great. A lot of sloppy play in the first game back and higher scoring games are often the story of the preseason.
Most players, like Staal, Crosby, Gonchar, and Kunitz, will only be trying to get back into a game rhythm after three months off, while younger guys will be giving all their effort.
A win is nice, but hardly necessary.
It's been a long time, but it's a hockey night in Pittsburgh!
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