Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin and 5 Players Who Need a Big Year

J FCorrespondent IOctober 18, 2011

Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin and 5 Players Who Need a Big Year

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins had a disappointing 2010 playoff campaign due to an early exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Yet, their failure to close out Tampa was a fitting ending to a turbulent season.

    Several key players missed significant time because of injury, including the team's top three centers.

    Sidney Crosby was having a career year before he was concussed and he's still not playing. Matt Cooke was suspended in the postseason, Evgeni Malkin tore his ACL, Jordan Staal was often hurt and top defenseman Brooks Orpik sat out a good amount of games.

    The way the Pens continued to fight through adversity was impressive, but they still fell short. Here are five players that need to have a big year for Pittsburgh to return to the Stanley Cup Final.

Evgeni Malkin

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    It's good to see Malkin back on the ice this year after his season-ending injury in 2010, but his knee is giving him problems and he's missed a few games.

    In the three games he has played, he has one goal and three assists.

    The Penguins need him to be an offensive star with Sidney Crosby's return still in question. Malkin must stay healthy if he wants to rise to the top of the league again like in 2009, when he won Art Ross Trophy.

Marc-Andre Fleury

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    When Marc-Andre Fleury is on his game, he is one of the best netminders in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Pens, he has stretches of mediocre play.

    Fleury been solid so far this season after being the team's MVP last year. He'll need to keep up the good work between the pipes for Pittsburgh to stay on top in the east and maybe even get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

James Neal

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    James Neal has been playing big for the Pens with five goals in seven games. While he doesn't necessarily need to carry the load, his scoring has been a major boost.

    Pittsburgh would love it if he could eclipse 30 goals this year and it hope he will fit in nicely with Crosby whenever he comes back.

    Neal has high expectations and a career year would be huge for the team's success.

Kris Letang

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    With seven points in seven games, Kris Letang is Pittsburgh's premier point collector thus far in 2011. As the team's top scoring defenseman, it is crucial that he keeps it up.

    He is currently serving a two-game suspension for his hit on Alexander Burmistrov of the Winnipeg Jets and the Pens will definitely miss his presence.

    Letang needs to be great both offensively and defensively to carry the Penguins back into the postseason.

Jordan Staal

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    With two goals in seven games, Staal is settling in as a scorer this season. He will need to continue to put the puck in the net even if Crosby comes back.

    He missed half of the 2010 season and the Pens hope he can become a 20-plus goal scorer again in 2011.

    It's safe to say that Staal does it all and this could be his best season yet.