Being a blogger of more than one sports team is a lot of fun. There is no off season for me, very rarely is there nothing to talk about and most importantly I have a lot of avenues to go through, but there are drawbacks. One of the big drawbacks is that I don't get much time in transition from one thing to another. Right now I am in a transition of three season, the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins. This makes things pretty tight when you think about preseason previews and post season wrap ups. I actually still have my Penguins wrap up from last season sitting on my computer half done. That is why I am a hack.
With all that being said here is my brief Penguins preview.
Last season the Penguins had a ho hum season. We talked about defending the cup and that this team was the one that wouldn't succumb to the curse. We were just telling ourselves that to make it seems like things would be better. The Penguins lost a lot from the team that won the cup. You start with a top pairing on the defensive end. Any team that loses two of your top defenseman and you don't replace them you are going to struggle on the defensive end. Jay McKee and Jordan Leopold don't count as filling the void left by Scuds and Gill. It was just one of them seasons. The season just seemed like meh the whole time. I kinda waited for the team to go on that tear that they had last season but it never came. The playoffs went ok, got within a game of their third staright Eastern Conference Final and the roof just came down. They ran into a hot goaltender and the defense faltered and that was the season. This season is different though, for a lot of reasons.
The first tall tell sign of a difference is a new barn. Out is Mellon Arena and in is the Consol Energy Center. I have not gone to the CEC yet, but from all accounts it is an unreal place to be. Like the boys over at the Pensblog said in their preview the Igloo will be missed, but the CEC is a place for a new start, and a a place to make new memories. It will be a joy to be a part of this building process. I think it is going to be weird being in a new building but that will go right out the door as soon as Orpik lights up Richards in the corner for the first time.
The more important different to this year is that Ray Shero went out and got the defense locked down. Singing Zybenek Michalek and Paul Martin on the first day of free agency pretty much told the rest of the NHL that the Penguins knew what they did wrong the year before and they were not going to be messing around this season. This was not to be done without consequences, however. Gone are Sergei Gonchar and Mark Eaton. The former was a very well liked player that gave the Penguins some great years, even before the core was together, the latter was an under the radar guy that not a lot of people talked about but he was solid in the defensive zone. If I was signing defenseman I would take Michalek and Martin every day over Gonchar and Eaton. People love Gonchar and I could catch heat for it, but this is a business and it is decisions like this that take you from being an average GM to being a beast like Ray Shero.
The rest of the defense isn't too shaby either. Brooks Orpik has been steady for this team for some time now and will be donning the A on his jersey this year and Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang are back on the team to have five really strong defenseman. The nice part about the situation is that there is a nice mix of stay at home defenseman and offensive minded guys. The big part of the defense that is going to be talked about is the development of GoGo and Letang. I thought last year they were much better players than the year before but there is room for improvement. GoGo is going to be looked upon to lead the power play in replacing Gonchar and Letang will also be leaned on big time for power play production. If Letang can hit the net a little more often this is going to be a monster year for him. Last season during the playoffs he stepped up big time and if he can continue to improve this will be a deadly blue line.
All things considered you have to think the Penguins have one of the top three blue lines in the entire NHL. The obvious weak spot for the Penguins is going to be that sixth defensive spot. Guys like Ben Lovejoy and Derek Engelland will get some chances to play hockey with the big club. They have had cups of coffee before but nothing substantial enough to tell you how they are really going to perform over an extended period of time in the NHL. Hell, if worrying about your sixth d-man is something that is on the front burner then I think things are pretty good defensively. Injuries are going to happen so having guys like Engelland, Lovejoy and a others is good. They have experience in the NHL so it isn't going to be shell shock if someone goes down, and someone will. That is the nature of an 82 game schedule.]
Talking about offense with the Penguins is pretty fun most of the time. They have the best 1-2-3 combo in the NHL and although they never have top tier wingers they usually have skilled enough players that make it work and get them over the top. Lets just get this out of the way first, Bing is just a freakishly good player. Every year he takes it upon himself to take his weakness and turn it into a strength. I have no idea what he will do to get better this year but if he does then there will be no discussion on who the best player in the world. Last year Bing was the co-winner of the Rocket Richard trophy after scoring 50+ goals but you might not see that this year. Sure he is going to score a good amount of goals, but I wouldn't be surprised if his goals went down and assists went up, with a better supporting cast around him.
Geno Malkin is back after a not so hot 2010 season where he only amounted 77 points and 28 goals. Malkin was limited to only 67 games played last season, but he just didn't look like himself. The odds of Geno playing like that again this year are pretty low. Added to that is that Malkin will be moved to wing this year so it will be interesting to see how he translates to this but with the kind of athlete he is I will not be shocked if it bothered him. I can't wait to listen to his interviews.
Staal will be out for about a month of the season because he is still having some trouble with his surgically repaired ankle from last years playoff. So what. He will be fine. I am sure he is tired anyways. When he comes back, watch out.
Shero also did a hell of a job to bring in some players that will make the Penguins better. At the end of last season Poni and Tenko weren't getting the job done and it hurt the Penguins big time. What does Shero do? Goes out and gets Mike Comrie and Aaron Asham. A couple of underrated players that want to win a cup and took a pay cut to come play with Bing, Geno and Co. I loved the Asham signing. Sure he played for Philadelphia, but he is a guy that was a thorn in our side. It was doubly good to get him out of Philadelphia and then get him to suit up for us. Money. Comrie was even more under the radar. Comrie can put the puck in the net, he has done it 20+ times in five different seasons so there is potential there. Having him play with someone like Geno is going to make him even better and hopefully get his full potential.
The Penguins return much of a cast and crew from last year that did a nice job. They return Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis who both really had great years for the Penguins last season. Everyone loves to bash Dupes because he has no hands and his touch was off, but he was as steady as anyone not named Crosby last season. He is not a first line player but when he is on the first line he doesn't look out of place. Nice to have a guy like that who will work hard and do whatever it takes. Matt Cooke is what he is. A player that is going to piss people off and still chip in a goal here and there. On the third line Cooke is about as good as it gets. Couple Cooke with Rupp and Asham and you got a lot of grit on the ice.
Mike Rupp is pretty money. Last year I believe that I was all over his junk when they got him (actually I know I was, because like Asham he played for the Devils and taking from them and giving to us is a big deal) and he delievered. Sure he didn't give you a ton offensively but he was just a great ice presence to have up there. A real under the radar guy. In the same roll is Craig Adams. Good face off guy with not a lot of offensive scoring ability, but more grit. Jesus, with all this muscle on the ice is there gonna be room for Godard?
Two guys that are really playing for a spot on teh team (for the whole season) are TK and Max Talbot. Now, I love them both and they have been a huge part of this team but there comes a time when you have to put up or shut up. Max is sort of a cult hero in Pittsburgh, but didn't really give the Penguins much this year, neither did TK. Hopefully this year the pressure of the young kids behind them push them to play better and earn the spot. Competition also brings the best out of players and hopefully that happens in this situation.
Kunitz is a real wild card. Last season I thought he played fairly well, especially in the playoffs. For the money he is making you wish he could give you more, but during the playoff run last season he was up with Dupes as being some of the best players on the ice. Kun only played in 50 games so that certainly isn't going to help. Staying healthy is key and with his health I think he makes Crosby and the first line that much better. He is a good play. If he stays on the ice I think this will be a big year for him.
I could talk about Tangradi, Letestu and others but I will leave that for some other time. They will be up and down all season. Like with the dmen guys will get hurt, they will step up. They are nice players to have. I am sure other teams have talented players they can bring up, but I don't know about them so they don't exist. Deal with it.
Goaltender shouldn't really even be a question but every year you have those yinzer fans that think Marc Andre Fleury should never give up a goal. Nothing will ever make these people happy until Fleury wins 82 regular season games then goes 16-0 in the playoffs. Even then they probably wouldn't be happy with the way he skated onto the ice during pregame. MAF is the real deal, he gives up some soft goals and has some soft games but what goaltender doesn't? Would you rather have some joke like Luongo that can't win in the playoffs and have great regular season numbers? I don't. MAF all the way. Numbers aren't always everything. Brent Johnson is back to be the second goaltender and that is a good thing. Did a nice job for the Penguins last year and could hold the fort if MAF would go down for a week or two. Nice job by Shero to resign him.
Well there you have it. A very quick preview of the Penguins this year. This is a cup contending team with what they did over the off seaon and I wouldn't be one bit surprised if that happened. This team is still young and experienced and after the cup win they didn't have to break down like the Hawks did. This should be a very fun season with some uptempo hockey. I can see this team winning a high scoring game and still be able to play a lock down 2-1 game and pull it out.
Buckle up people.
Lets Go Pens.