NHL season preview: Three big questions facing the Pittsburgh Penguins

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

Three questions that will shape the outlook of the Penguins 2013-14 regular season.

As part of the SB Nation NHL Preview, coming out on Monday, we have to answer three questions for them. I've seen our contribution to the preview, and they've formatted in much the same appealing way that they recently did the NFL Season Preview, but I think the hockey one looks even snazzier. Plus the content is a lot better because it's, you know, hockey.

THREE BIG QUESTIONS

1. What do the Penguins get out of Marc-Andre Fleury?


This is the million dollar question, especially now with the state of Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) in so much question. Pittsburgh has lost their steady veteran backup, so now it's all up to Fleury.

And if anyone has any idea what to expect, they're lying. Fleury has posted an above league average save percentage in five of the last eight regular seasons, and in the past two regular seaso>ns he's been one of the Pens best players with a 65-25-4 record and a .914 save %.

Of course there is the matter of playoff play where Fleury has been a hot mess and the worst goalie in the league the past two springs, leaving it very much in question just what mental state he is in, and if he'll be able to keep the puck out of the net.

Fleury is capable of playing well and being a reason the Penguins win games...but he's also capable of being the reason the Penguins lose games with shoddy play. Which one shows up? I don't think anyone has really the slightest of ideas.

2. Who plays on the wing with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal?

In the long-term the answer is Beau Bennett, who at 21 years old made a splash in the NHL last season as a good looking rookie and rare display of a forward that the Penguins have developed recently.

In the short-term, the answer looks like Jussi Jokinen. A former 30 goal scorer, Jokinen has 579 games of NHL experience to Bennett's 26. When it comes to a "top 6" player, a team is looking for a reliable guy to be counted on to produce and let's remember that Beau Bennett has 2 even-strength goals in his NHL career. He's a really promising and skilled player, but he's as green and untested as he is talented.

Allowing Bennett the benefit of playing on a line with Brandon Sutter (and away from the defensive and checking units that Malkin and Neal see) probably allow him a lot more room, a little more time and he'll definitely be a main option on the line, instead of just handling the puck whenver a star like Malkin or Neal defers to him.

Beau Bennett is definitely the future, but for the present it might be in his and the team's best interest to pump the breaks on him as a permanent, full-time linemate of Malkin and Neal.

3. Just how many goals will the Penguins score?


Last year the Penguins led the NHL, in scoring with 3.38 goals per game, while not surprisingly having one of the top power play units in the league (24.7% was 2nd best). And, even more impressively, they did it in spite of top players missing serious time to injury. Sidney Crosby, of course, was out the final 12 games of the season with a broken jaw, Evgeni Malkin missed 17 games (and played more with a shoulder that wasn't 100%) and the two top scoring defensemen on the team (Kris Letang and Paul Martin) combined to miss 27 games with various injuries.

This season, with any luck from health, the Penguins should once again compete to be one of the highest scoring teams in the league. With Crosby and Malkin they have two truly elite centers that will boost wingers in Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and James Neal back to (or past) career high totals. Youngster Beau Bennett figures to play a larger role and be another weapon. Letang, with free agent acquistion Rob Scuderi as his partner, is free to step up even more, as we've already seen this pre-season.

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