The Pittsburgh Penguins welcome back number one goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers. The return of Fleury could not come at a better time as the Penguins are looking for any spark to get them back to their winning ways.
The Penguins have been struggling to find goal scoring from anyone not named Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. The hat tricks of Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis aside, the wingers need to finish for their all-world centers.
Penguins’ fans have been clamoring for a scoring winger to play alongside Crosby since he came into the league. He had Zigmund Palffy during his rookie season, but Palffy had “shoulder trouble” 30 games into Crosby’s rookie season and retired.
This past season, Crosby started the season with Colby Armstrong and Mark Recchi on his wings. As the season progressed, Recchi was released and Armstrong was traded to the Thrashers in a deal that gave Crosby a winger with the talent to finish his passes, Marian Hossa.
The fans were treated to a show as Crosby and Hossa, and with the help of the Malkin line, dominated the Eastern Conference and helped guide the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1992.
Hossa decided against the Penguins' long-term offer and signed a one-year pact to play with the team that defeated the Penguins in the Finals, the Detroit Red Wings. The Penguins were a bit stunned by Hossa’s defection, and brought in fellow Slovak Miroslav Satan to play on Crosby’s wing.
Malkin, meanwhile, lost Ryan Malone, but still has Sykora on his right side. When Crosby was lost for 30+ games last season, Malkin took over and his line became one of the most productive lines in all of hockey. Malone should thank the hockey gods everyday that Malkin got him a huge payday in Tampa Bay, but the Penguins needed someone to replace Malone’s 27 goals. Ruslan Fedotenko was signed the same day as Satan, and the New York Islander teammates were Pittsburgh Penguins together.
Satan has the stressful job of trying to replace Hossa. No one will confuse the two as Hossa is the better talent, but Satan is on pace to score 30 goals, which is what he was brought to Pittsburgh to do, score goals. The biggest knock against Satan is his tendencies to disappear for long stretches at a time, and playing wing on the top line means one has to produce. He also floats on occasion, and when you are being counted on to play with a player like Crosby, you have to do more to get the puck in the net.
Crosby is unable to do it all himself, although he looks likes he can. Satan would be a perfect fit on the top line if the Penguins had a playmaker on the other wing. Dupuis and Max Talbot have been tried at Crosby’s left, but they are grinders and are not playmakers.
Fedotenko has seemed to find a nice home with Malkin and Sykora. The latter two developed great chemistry last season, and with Fedotenko being a fellow Russian like Malkin, that line can communicate better than most lines. (Sykora can speak Russian). Fedotenko is known for his second half play, so he will be counted on to be a force in the run leading up to the playoffs and all throughout the Cup run.
The salary cap era makes it nearly impossible to fill every need with All-Star caliber players. The Penguins are set at center for years to come with Crosby and Malkin as their number one and number 1A centers. Jordan Staal seems to be coming into his own as the team’s number three center and face-off specialist Mike Zigomanis is the ideal number four center with the ability to take a huge face-off in close games.
The team is trying to grow their own wingers in the minors and expect to see guys like Luca Caputi on the big team within two years. Staal’s line continues to provide energy and timely goals from the likes of Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. That line has to continue to be the energy line.
As the Penguins get healthy and as the trading deadline approaches, it will be interesting to see what General Manager Ray Shero plans. The Penguins are in a “win now” mode, and unless the wingers get hot at the right time, it could be a short playoff run.