Season Preview: Pittsburgh
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com
year, the Pittsburgh Penguins put together one of the most shocking playoff
performances in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Their goaltending and defense
were awful and even two of the most talented players in the world could not
carry the team past the Philadelphia Flyers.
The team concentrated solely on defense in the off-season, drafting two
defensive players in the first round. They also made a blockbuster trade
shipping Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes in a deal that brought Brandon
Sutter to Steeltown. Staal was stuck behind Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on
the depth chart, so a deal made sense, but the team may miss his strong two-way
Malkin, the reigning Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner, is arguably the best
offensive player in the world. The argument stems from his teammate Sidney
Crosby, who when healthy, makes a strong, strong case in his favor. The
combination of these two centers is enough to make any team an instant favorite.
For years, the two centers had to carry the team without any real help on the
wings. Wingers like Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy have put together nice
seasons, but ever since Marian Hossa's one year stint with the team, scoring
wingers have been a problem. Now they have James Neal, who is climbing to NHL
stardom, to pass the puck to. They will also need to get offense out of their
bottom six, and Sutter will need to make up for a lot of the offense that will
be missed with the departure of Staal.
Consistent play from the backend was problematic for the Penguins last season.
Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were less than stellar, and left quite a few
opportunities for opposing scorers. Michalek was shipped back to the desert, but
Martin will need to step his game up. Kris Letang has been one of the top
offensive players in the league from the blueline, but will need to step up his
defensive game. Along with shutdown defender Brooks Orpik, the two will need to
hold firm on the blueline.
From here stemmed the biggest problem of the Penguins' 2011-12 season.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who was drafted first-overall and led the Penguins to their
first Stanley Cup victory in over two decades, was the long-term solution. He
played well for years until last season's playoff blow-up. The Penguins acquired
Tomas Vokoun to spell some of the work, and hopefully push Fleury to an elite
level. Fleury is still the future of this franchise, but may have a short leash
in the shortened season. There is a good chance that head coach Dan Bylsma will
ride the hot hand.
There is too much talent on Pittsburgh to not compete for the top spot in the
East. There will be a three-way battle for the Atlantic Division crown between
the Penguins, Rangers and Flyers, but a healthy Sidney Crosby means the Pens are
3 Players to Watch
Crosby's injury has been documented ad nauseum. He lost a ton of games due
to his concussion, but appeared close to the same player when he returned.
If there are no lingering issues, he could be the league MVP this year.
Malkin is a dominate player on the ice. In Crosby's absence last season, he
absolutely controlled games, and scores goals that very few players in the
league can. He, along with Crosby, are the main reason why this team could
be raising the Stanley Cup in June.
Fleury will need to be consistent in order for the Penguins to end the
season as champions. His mighty struggles were well documented last year,
and he will play into whether or not the team succeeds or fails just as much
as any guy on the ice. With Vokoun looking over his shoulder, he needs to
impress every time he takes the ice.