With the hockey season on its way, we at PKLC have decided to do previews from as many teams as we can (if we still care about it after 14 days) today we continue in the Atlantic Division, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What Happened Last Year
47-28-7 - 101 pts
4th in Eastern Conference
2nd in Atlantic Division
Coming off their 3rd Stanley Cup win, and second straight trip to the Finals, no one had played more hockey over the past two seasons than the Penguins. (ok..maybe the Wings played just as much) Coming into the season, not only were they the defending champs, but also their last season in the oldest barn in the NHL, Mellon Arena. Despite the fact they lost defencemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, two integral parts in their cup winning team, they were the experts pick - if not to repeat - to go deep into the playoffs. Their season didn't start out like they had hoped, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Coyotes. Divison rival New Jersey Devils once again had their way with the Pens, winning all 6 meetings against the club, as did Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, winning all 4 games by a combined score of 20-13. The Big Three in Pittsburgh had up and down seasons. Evgeni Malkin still racked up an impressive 77 points while only playing 67 games, though it was a far cry from his Art Ross winning 113 points of the season before. Sidney Crosby vowed to work on his goal scoring. All he did was lead the league, potting an impressive 51 goals, (tied with Tampa's Steven Stamkos) a race that was hard fought right to the final games of the regular season. Jordan Staal was the model of consistency. The hard nosed third liner matched his previous season's point totals, but set a career high in assists with 28. Pittsburgh sent 5 players to the Olympics in Vancouver, Crosby and Malkin, along with defenceman Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar represented their homelands. Goalie Marc Andre Fleury also made the trip, but didn't see any ice time as Canada's third string goalie. We all know who scored the winning goal for Canada.
GM Ray Shero was quiet at this years trade deadline compared to those of the past. He plucked Alexi Ponikarovsky from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for prospect Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula. (who then moved Skoula to New Jersey for a draft pick) Ponikarovsky effectively flopped in Pittsburgh, playing on the second line with Evgeni Malkin, scoring only 9 points in 16 games and was pretty much invisible in the playoffs ( check out that segue)
The Pens made the playoffs for a third consecutive year, and for the 3rd time ('07 '08 '10) in 4 playoffs, they met the Ottawa Senators. The Pens took the 'never say die' Sens to 6 games where they finally beat them. But it was triple overtime game 5 that was the story of this series, with Matt Carkner bringing the series back to Ottawa.
Round two brought the upstart Montreal Canadiens. Fresh off a 7 game upset of the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals, their sights were set on the defending champs. They also brought former Penguin Hal Gill, who won a cup with the Pens in the season prior. With the exception of games 1 (6-3 pens win and the loss of Andrei Markov with a hard, clean Matt Cooke hit. I talked pretty big after this game, rubbing it in to my Habs fan friend) and game 7 (5-2 montreal, in which the pens couldn't have given less of a damn) this series was quite close. The Canadiens ended the Penguins quest for a repeat at Mellon Arena, in the same way it was opened, with a Canadiens win, despite the heroics of Jordan Staal, who returned to the ice days after surgery to repair a sliced tendon in his foot.
This offseason was uncharacteristically longer than the past two for the team. The upcoming season is one filled with optimism on many levels. The team once again looks strong, and the City of Pittsburgh and the Penguins welcome the new arena, the Consol Energy Center.
Do I Get To Live With Mario? (key additions)
Both Martin and Michalek will soften the blow left by the departure of Gonchar, and will also add some grit on the back end, as Books Orpik was really their only physical defenseman. Mike Comrie is a versatile winger who signed for league minimum after spending a less than stellar year in Edmonton. Look for his numbers to improve playing on one of the top two lines.
Going Back Across the Bridge(key departures)
While Gonchar was the teams PP quarterback, look for Alex Gologoski or Kris Letang to fill the void on the blue. I think Guerin will be the biggest loss to the team. While his numbers suffered last season, he was no doubt a great veteran presence in the locker room. He was seen working out with the Flyers this past week, much to the chagrin of Pens fans world wide.
The Season Ahead
Look for the Pens to be much more physical on the back end, as I noted above, Martin and Michalek will add to a corps that already includes Orpik. Ben Lovejoy (yes, his real name) is looking to crack the pro roster after being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season and showing promise. Centre is still their most dominate position, and will be for sometime as Crosby, Malkin and Staal are all sticking around for the foreseeable future. There has been talk of moving Staal to the second line, and playing wing. As I noted in an earlier post, Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy will have to be strong coming out of camp.
Looking to Lead(these will be no brainers)
Sidney Crosby - I know, an easy pick. The sky is the limit with Sid. If he really wanted to, he could lead the league in PIMs. Anything less than 100 points for Crosby will be analyzed 50 times over
Jordan Staal - The most compelling part of this season for Staal is how he will handle a possible promotion to second line, and switch to wing. He's done it before, but being a natural centre, will it be for an extended period of time, or will Coach Bylsma flip flop between Staal and our next player to watch.
Evgeni Malkin - He had, by almost everyones accounts, a terrible season last year. As I said above, being limited to 64 games with a shoulder injury doesn't help. He still put up an impressive 77 points, but certainly not what we've seen he can do.
Marc Andre Fleury - the biggest problem with 'Flower' seems to be his consistency. During the playoffs he certainly seemed to be missing a step. An .891 sv% and 2.78 GAA put him in 8th and 9th respectively among playoff goalies. He's notoriously shaky during the regular season.
The PKLC Prediction
3rd in Eastern Conference
1st in Atlantic Division
Lose in Eastern Final (if it's a Flyers/Pens ECF, that'll be a battle)
Finally, a great video from our friends at Benstonium. Celebrating the life of the Mellon Arena
Did you shed a man tear there? If you didn't, you're dead inside.
(as always, feel free to drop a comment, or badger us on twitter)