Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins went all-in with at the trade deadline, acquiring players like Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen to help with their playoff push. It was an all-or-nothing scenario for the Penguins, who were all but assured to lose most of their “rentals” after the season was over because of the salary cap. Unfortunately, the Penguins were unceremoniously swept by the Bruins during the Eastern Conference Finals.
That’s not to say the Penguins won’t be dangerous again this season. After all, they do have two of the most dynamic players in the NHL in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Despite missing time due to injury, Crosby still managed to register 56 points in just 36 games. Malkin, who also missed time with injury, scored at just above a point-per-game pace last year. These two will again be counted on to lead the offensive charge for the Penguins and, if healthy, could both easily be in the running for the Art Ross Trophy.
The big surprised for the Penguins last season where Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, who finished second and third respectively in team scoring. Both Kunitz and Dupuis, along with James Neal, where the only three Penguins to finish with 20 or more goals last season. James has emerged as a legitimate All Star, and if Kunitz and Dupuis can replicate last season’s success, the Penguins could have the most dominate top-six in the league.
Coming into this season, the team’s real need for improvement was in the defensive end. After finishing in the middle of the pack in goals allowed per game and shots allowed per game, the team added defenseman Rob Scuderi to their lineup, who was a strong part of their Stanley Cup Championship run in 2008-09 before signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings, where he won his second Stanley Cup.
The Penguins will employ a strong mix of veteran talent with a few up-and-comers. This should afford them plenty of opportunity to evaluate their younger prospects and, if needed, make moves to improve their blue line prior to the trade deadline.
The real question mark seems to be goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. By no means did Fleury have a bad regular season last year, but his playoff numbers the past two seasons have been nothing short of atrocious. In fact, Fleury eventually lost the starting job during the playoffs to backup Tomas Vokoun, who started 11 of Pittsburgh’s playoff games. Coming into this season, it’s uncertain where the team’s coaching staff will be at in terms of goaltending. But we will likely see a battle between Fleury and Vokoun, who is more than capable of taking the reigns should Fleury falter. And last year’s playoffs, the leash on Fleury likely won’t be very long at all.
The Penguins come into the season with basically the same formula that has worked well for them the past few seasons. They will rely heavily on the offense provides by Crosby, Malkin and Neal—and even Kris Letang from the blue line— to overpower their competition. Their defensive play certainly shouldn’t be any worse with the addition of Rob Scuderi, but some younger defenseman may need a bit of time to acclimate themselves to the league. Fleury’s play is really the only worrisome factor prior to the season’s start, but with backup Tomas Vokoun an incredible capable netminder, goaltending won’t likely be an issue this season. Expect the Penguins to be among the league’s best again this year.