2010-11 NHL Season Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

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2010-11 NHL Season Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Sidney Crosby scored 51 goals last season. Is the goal-scoring Sid here to stay?

Key Additions: D Paul Martin, D Zbynek Michalek, D Corey Potter, RW Arron Asham, D Andrew Hutchinson, C Mike Comrie.

Key Subtractions: RW Bill Guerin, LW Ruslan Fedotenko, D Sergei Gonchar, LW Alex Ponikarovsky, D Jordan Leopold, D Mark Eaton.

In professional sport, building a dynasty is proving increasingly more difficult as time goes by. The latest NHL franchise attempting to do so was the Pittsburgh Penguins, and after two straight Stanley Cup finals appearances (and of course, one win), the Penguins had the door wide open to cruise back there again.

Then, just like the heavily favored Washington team before them, the Penguins succumbed to a hot goalie and clutch performances and were bounced out before even having a chance to rightfully defend their crown. What happened? Was the dream over? Did Pittsburgh suddenly revert to the middle of the pack? Hardly.

The Penguins fell as many teams do in a brief lapse. In the off-season, Pittsburgh addressed their beat up and defense and made a few journeyman acquisitions in an effort to show that very little was wrong with the team. To that end, they were right in their motives.

Talking about the Penguins offense stars and ends with two names: Crosby and Malkin. Sidney Crosby’s lineage and legacy is well known. There’s no reason to harp on what he’s capable of. Last season, Crosby finally added the goal scoring drive to his point totals, exploding for 51 goals to tie for the league lead. Reasons? He shot the puck more. Much more. In fact, Crosby’s 298 shots were amongst the most in all the NHL (behind Alexander Ovechkin).

Evgeni Malkin, meanwhile, had his lowest career totals across the board last year. Why? Malkin missed 15 games, and yet he still managed to light the lamp 28 times with 49 assists. Questioning either Crosby or Malkin as All-Star talents would be like asking if a steak dinner is good for vegetarians.

The Penguins third in command, Jordan Staal, will be experiencing a legitimate minor setback to start the year since he’s sidelined for a little while. Admittedly, this is a major blow to the franchise that they’ll have to counteract with some strong play. Staal is an incredible penalty killer with fast skates and smooth hands, and he was on the verge of joining the upper echelon in points this season.

Despite the great praise of the top three in the Pittsburgh system, GM Ray Shero’s new direction in the off-season, one geared towards defense and not offense, has left Pittsburgh quite thin on the wing. Three top line centers can only do so much, and when one analyzes Pittsburgh left and right sides, you’ll find more role players than efficient scorers.

Perhaps now is the time for Pens’ wingers Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis, and Max Talbot to takeover 20 and 30 goal scores. Only Dupuis, seven years ago, has hit such a mark in their combined careers. The Penguins will also be looking for Chris Kunitz to rebound from last year’s abbreviated campaign with better numbers that mirror his 25 goals and 35 assists in 2006-07.

As mentioned earlier, the Pittsburgh defense is perhaps better than it was when the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup. Without Sergei Gonchar, the Pens made room for two younger, more well-rounded players in Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Michalek is an excellent shot blocker who can join in on the rush at the drop of a hat, and Martin is something of a double whammy since Pittsburgh’s win is New Jersey’s loss.

The Penguins are also returning with a strong core of players in Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski. Letang and Goligoski are both offensive weapons that could really show their gifts to the world in the wake of Gonchar’s departure. Determining which one, however, will spend the most time on the power play could be an interesting point of discussion this year.

And if Orpik’s rise in the Olympics for Team USA was evidence enough of how valuable the massive defender is, perhaps a full season attempting to shut down the likes of Kovalchuk, Gaborik, and Tavares will give even the most jaded of fans something substantial.

In net, Marc-Andre Fleury will play a huge role once again. Fleury’s win-loss numbers are about what is expected of him, but he’s still got great room to improve on save percentage and goals against average. A much improved defense should help with those adjustments, but Fleury, who is looking for his fourth 35+ win season, also has the ability to do it alone.

Fleury posted just one shutout in the 2009-10 season, a statistic that has never been his strong suit (his career high is five in a season).

Rookie Watch
With all the talk about wingers stepping up into new roles for the Penguins, Eric Tangradi is sure to stick out this year. A 6’4” foe with strong handling and scoring skills, Tangradi is much less a lumbering oaf than he looks.

Outlook
Addressing the issues on the wing and the extended time without Jordan Staal could legitimately be the only things holding Pittsburgh back. There’s no reason to believe the Pens won’t be fighting for the Cup again this season. Second in the Atlantic, Fourth in the Eastern Conference.

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