Regular Season Game 1: New York Rangers @ Pittsburgh Penguins
The celebration for the defending Stanley Cup Champions ends tonight as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Rangers in what will be a special night.
The Penguins will raise their Stanley Cup banner into the rafters during tonight’s pre-game ceremonies to celebrate their amazing 2008-2009 journey.
Tonight will also mark the final regular season opener at Mellon Arena. The Penguins will move into the Consol Energy Center next season. Mellon Arena which opened in 1961 has been the home of the Penguins since the organization entered the NHL in 1967.
For the players, the celebration has already ended and it’s back to business as soon as the puck drops.
The Penguins enter the 2009-2010 season with expectations of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. The team returns their core of star centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Stanley Cup winning goaltender Marc Andre Fleury.
Down the middle the Penguins are the deepest team in the NHL. They have two of the games top centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both players yet to reach their prime.
In Jordan Staal the Penguins have a 21 year old center entering his 4th NHL season, whose only going to get better. In year four, consistency will be the key for Staal.
Rounding out the 4th line will be veteran center Craig Adams. Adams who was a valuable asset to the Penguins playoff run had a strong training camp and has also taken a leadership role off-the ice. The Penguins also have the option of using Michael Rupp at center.
*With a star studded group down the middle, the Penguins have a solid but not an outstanding group of wingers.
Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Pascal Dupuis will begin the season on the Penguins top two lines. Guerin, Fedotenko and Kunitz all have the ability for 20+ goals. Dupuis though is a 3rd/4th liner and is not a fit alongside Evgeni Malkin.
*Tyler Kennedy is primed for a breakout season and will get a strong look on the top two lines with Max Talbot out until late November.
Kennedy though will begin the season on a line with gritty winger Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal. The coaching staff doesn’t see Staal’s line as a typical third line. They envision the Staal unit of being another scoring line for the Penguins.
The Penguins 4th line will consist of Michael Rupp, Craig Adams, enforcer Eric Godard and newly acquired winger Chris Bourque.
Rupp adds a physical presence that the team lacked last season and will be a fixture on the 4th line. Godard will be in and out of the lineup but will be needed throughout the year.
The wildcard is Chris Bourque. Bourque is a former second round pick and has the grit, speed, and offensive ability to be a regular on the third line. He has the ability to push a veteran or two down the depth chart.
Potential Call-ups: Veteran winger Ryan Bayda, a member of the Carolina Hurricanes for the past 5 seasons; Prospects Nick Johnson and Dustin Jeffrey.
Injured Reserve: Max Talbot (shoulder) – Due back by late November at the earliest. Will have a role on the top three lines.
The Penguins return their core of Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Mark Eaton.
Key losses for the Penguins in free agency include defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. Gill and Scuderi were regarded as the Penguins shutdown pairing but that notion was over-rated.
The loss of Scuderi and Gill has opened up a spot in the lineup for Alex Goligoski. Goligoski is a dynamic offensive defenseman who was the Penguins top defenseman in camp.
Goligoski gives the Penguins three offensive defensemen (Gonchar, Letang, Goligoski) in their lineup, something they haven’t had since the 2007-2008 season due to personnel changes and injures.
A short-fall for Goligoski is his play in the defensive zone. It’s an area that he had made great strides in but there will be some short-comings throughout the year.
The Penguins were quiet in free agency and their top free agent signing was veteran defenseman Jay McKee. McKee is an avid shot-blocker and adds toughness to the Penguins blueline.
With the loss of No.7 defenseman Philippe Boucher, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero signed Martin Skoula just days before the season opener.
Potential Call-ups: Nate Guenin, Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy (shoulder)
*Of all the contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins maybe the most stable in net with 24 year old goaltender Marc Andre Fleury.
Fleury who has led the Penguins to two straight Stanley Cup appearances is among the elite goaltenders in the league. At age 24 he’s still looking to get better.
Backing up Fleury will be veteran goaltender Brent Johnson. One concern with Johnson will be the fact that he is coming off of hip surgery. Behind Johnson, is goaltender John Curry who will be the No. 1 netminder in Wilkes Barre.
Dan Bylsma is off to a sensational coaching career leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title in just four months on the job. The goal for Bylsma this year will be to prevent a Stanley Cup hang-over.
Bylsma’s a young coach who is often regarded as a player friendly coach. Still, thus far he has shown the ability to be very hard on his players when needed and he will have to keep that up and prevent the locker-room from becoming a country club atmosphere.
*Repeating as champions is the hardest thing to do in sports. There will be many obstacles in the Penguins way (Philadelphia, Washington, Boston to name a few) including the Olympic Break. The Penguins could have up to 7 players participating in the 2010 Olympics. In 2006, Red Wings GM Ken Holland claimed the Olympics was the sole reason his team stumbled in the playoffs that year. The Red Wings had 9 players participating in the event.
The Penguins may not win their division but they are built for the playoffs with Malkin, Crosby and Staal down the middle and Fleury in net.
Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions
Atlantic Division: Second Place: (4th overall Eastern Conference)
Goals Leader: Evgeni Malkin 44
Assists Leader: Sidney Crosby: 79
Points Leaders: Evgeni Malkin: 117
Best Player: Sidney Crosby – When healthy Crosby is the most complete player in the game. He’s what drives the Penguins.
Breakout Player: Tyler Kennedy – Primed to have to a 20+ goal season.
Player to Watch: Ruslan Fedotenko – Has the ability to have a 25 goal season playing alongside Evgeni Malkin but consistency will be the key. I still have my doubts. Has only scored 20+ goals once in his career.
Player who will not finish the year with the team: Pascal Dupuis – Why? Ryan Bayda and Chris Bourque each play a similar game at a much cheaper cap hit.