This time of year, seemingly everyone's looking into the crystal ball. Most of the season previews you'll see usually play it safe and name the same old teams to finish at the top and the same old schlubs to suffer at the bottom. Well let's step outside of the comfort zone and give some predictions of some things that could happen.
Join me after the jump for five bold predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins that you won't see anywhere else...
#1--Sidney Crosby goes for 40+ goals.
He led the NHL in [playoff] goals and now he's attempting to get the feel of a better stick that will give his shots more velocity. Crosby's career high in goals is 39 in his rookie year "all" the way back in 2005-06. With presumably a full-season of the highest caliber line-mates he's had for this long a stretch in Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, look for Sid to break his personal best. Also the mentality of players like Kunitz and Guerin, who work hard to dig up loose pucks and throw it to the net has seemed to bring even more of a "nose for the net" for Crosby, he brings his lunch pail when he's playing with guys like that.
#2-- Evgeni Malkin steals the show at the Olympics
Despite winning the scoring title and the playoff MVP, Malkin remains largely in his teammate or countryman's shadow (no need to name either's name, we all know who they are). It may seem like a long time ago but Malkin had a poor "big-time" player reputation for his performance in the 2008 playoffs down the stretch. All those demons were obviously exorcised as he flatly dominated the 2009 playoffs and helped lead the Pens all the way to Lord Stanley. But watch for Geno to really explode at the Olympcs where he's the early expectation is for him to center Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Frolov. Malkin's going to pull something amazing and it'll be a high profile reason the Russians skate out of Vancouver with the gold. At that point, if for only a moment, Malkin's name won't be behind anyone's.
#3 - Jordan Staal has his best season as a Penguin to date
It'll be tough to statistically top his rookie campaign where he scored 29 goals (playing largely on Malkin's wing) but watch for Jordan Staal to breakout. Petr Sykora was 4th among Penguin forwards with 3:44 a night of power-play time, Miroslav Satan got 2:53 a night, those minutes will need to be replaced. And while guys like Guerin and Kunitz figure to eat into some of that, Staal is the big body perfect for the net to join the super-skilled first unit of Crosby-Malkin-Gonchar-Letang. Praises rung high and wide about Staal's performance at Team Canada's summer camp, even if he's still a long shot to make the team. Watch for Staal to breakout, especially when he gets more power play time and improves on his mark of 2 PP goals in all of 2008-09.
Letang's seen his goal total modestly rise from 6 in his rookie season to 10 last season. He's settling into the NHL and his role as a power-play mainstay. I got a feeling he's gonna score a lot of goals this season. Even though Gonchar was scoring at a 20 goal pace in his brief regular season (25 games), he's been pretty consistent in his years as a Penguin with season's of 12, 13 and 12 goals. Gonchar ought to do a bit better than 12 or 13, but the young right-handed Letang should eclipse him as the leading goal scorer from the blueline.
#5 - The Penguins have a better year than last
I can hear it now "but they won the Cup last year!!". True, it's impossible really to top that. Perhaps that bold prediction is too bold, but I betcha the Pens end the regular season in a better position than last year's 45-28-9 (99 point) barely 4th place finish in the East. The Penguins were also an uninspiring 19-15-6 on the road, an area they should be able to improve in. Also the goal differential was only +25 over the course of the season (264 goals for, 239 goals allowed). That should be better, especially the goals against figure of 2.91 per game. That would set them up to be better than 4th in the East and give them a better shot entering the playoff drive for the third straight Eastern Conference title.