Keeping with the trend across SBN, here's your Pittsburgh Penguins 2009-10 Season Preview.
2008-09 recap: Well, we can sum this up with a lot of unnecessary wordage or we can just cut right to the chase. Given the fact that the new season kicks off in less than a week and every player has mentioned they are putting the success of last year on the back burner, I choose the latter.
Injuries: Max Talbot, shoulder; tentative return set for November
Team Strengths: Minus Petr sykora and Miro Satan, the entire offense is more or less intact. Keeping this unchanged, combined with the enthusiastic and discounted returns from Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko, should hopefully leave the Pens and fans with the same up-tempo offense that took down the Cup last season. Pittsburgh's top line will likley be comprised of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Guerin. Funny to think only 1/3 of that line was even starting for Pittsburgh last year at this time.
Marc-Andre Fleury proved his worth in the playoffs last season and may finally get the recognition he deserves in 2010. The important factor that can't go overlooked is his ability to play well in high-pressure situations - you know, like the dying seconds of the third period in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He's starting to get that reputation all goaltenders strive for. The sort of guy who steps up and makes big saves at big times - aforementioned Lidstrom save in the finals, Alex Ovechkin in the semifinals, Jeff Carter in the quarterfinals.
Even backup goaltender Brent Johnson brings experience and strong rebound control to the Pens which hopefully stands as some reassurance in the event that MAF disappears for a few weeks like he's done the past two seasons. Given the risk of injury to either, it's also reassuring to know that John Curry rests not too far away in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Despite his inexperience at the NHL level, Curry showed signs of flashiness last season and more than a few impressive saves during the preseason.
Team Weaknesses: Even though the Pens waved good-bye to Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi and Philippe Boucher this offseason, you can't just say defense. You have to ask, "defense?" With a question mark. That's because the overall competence is somewhat unknown, even if guys like Brooks Orpik, Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang are still in place.
Jay McKee came on board with the Pens in July after having his contract bought out by the St. Louis Blues. He's still untested for the Penguins but took a discount with hopes of winning the Cup. He's a shot-blocking, blue collar sorta guy who will make every second on the ice count.
The Pens also look to add Alex Goligoski to the blue line this season, an offensive defenseman who saw some time with the parent club last season when Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney each missed time we injuries. GoGo showed signs of offensive prowess last season but may very likely have to improve on his defensive side of the game.
Kris Letang, entering a contract year where he's rumored to be asking for $4-million per, will have to play like a $4-million defenseman. Offensively Letang leaves more to be desired but it would seem everyone in Pittsburgh is rooting for him in that respect. Much to his credit, Tanger shot the puck more frequently last season and according to camp reports has upped the defensive aspect of his game.
Predictions for 2009-10 season: How can any Pens fan say they expect anything less than a repeat? The fact that it's realistic and not entirely unattainable stands as evidence to the fact that they have as good a shot as any, if not better than some. However here comes another season of all this Stanley Cup hangover talk. Two straight seasons of playoff hockey, both of which sent Pittsburgh's season well into June, may catch up with the team. Young as they may be, this is obviously a concern. It'll be a long season where any team that beats the Pens didn't just beat Pittsburgh, but instead they beat the "Stanley Cup Champs." Some sort of surprise injury always pops up at some point in the season but Pittsburgh has always managed to work around it. And what of all these experts and pundits that claim the Penguins won't make another run for it? I say bring it. Leadership is strong and the Pens already have their much-anticipated taste of victory. They won't settle for anything less than a repeat and tend to play better with the odds stacked against them.
They're not worried, I'm not worried, and you shouldn't be either.