After a 47 point improvement in the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins will no longer be surprising any teams in the National Hockey League. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal the Pens can now be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup threat heading into the 2007/08 season. With that said, the young, up-and coming squad is not without its fair share of question marks.
Here are five questions hockey fans have about the Penguins heading into 07/08:
Will the Penguins’ off-season acquisitions make a difference?
While youth and enthusiasm could have been considered as strengths last season, the lack of veteran presence and experience really seemed to hurt the Penguins in round one versus the Senators. With that in mind, general manager Ray Shero went out this off-season and added veterans Petr Sykora and Darryl Sydor to the mix. The Pens now have Sykora, Sydor, Recchi and Roberts in their dressing room which will provide the team with plenty of veteran leadership; never mind the fact that all four of these key veterans have won the Stanley Cup during the course of their respective careers. Expect the veteran additions to pay dividends come playoff time.
Is the defense good enough?
Having puck-moving defensemen in today’s fast-moving game is the key to a strong breakout and transition game. Luckily for the Pens, they possess two of the best puck-moving defenseman in the game with Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. Unfortunately, their defensive unit drops off significantly after Gonchar and Whitney leaving the team with question marks on the back end. If Brooks Orpik can continue to be a physical force and Sydor can provide more puck-moving ability, the team should be able to score enough goals to make up for the team’s lack of defensive talent.
Is Marc-Andre Fleury the answer in net?
The former number one selection overall in the NHL draft has been under immense pressure to live up to expectations since arriving in the league. Thus far, the goaltender has been so-so, with much room for improvement. Fleury is a very athletic goalie, but he often over-commits on the shooter . Additionally, the young netminder has had his fair share of confidence issues over the past couple of years. Nonetheless, Fleury is amongst the most talented netminders in the league and should comfortably lead the Pens to a 40+ win season.
Is Michelle Therien on the hot seat?
The answer to this question is most likely yes. The former Habs’ bench boss is blessed with one of the most talented rosters in the entire NHL and it will be up to him to coral the Pens’ young talent and channel it towards a long playoff run. Therien is a coach who lives on the edge and is known to have a violent temper, the key to this season may be for him to maintain an even keel and let his talent play out. The talent is there to sustain a long playoff run, and with talent comes expectations. Therien will be under immense pressure this season in the Steeltown.
Can the Penguins win the Cup?
Absolutely they can. This is a team that has the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby and one of the best young centers to come along in a while in Evgeni Malkin. Both of these players possess the ability to carry a team on their own without much difficulty. Factor in such veteran scorers as Roberts, Recchi and Sykora, never mind 19 year old phenom Jordan Staal, and you have arguably the best offense in the NHL today. While the defense and goaltending are lacking in certain respects, every team in today’s salary cap era has question marks. Expect the Pens to contend for the Cup this year. In fact, it says here that Crosby and company face off in the Stanley Cup Finals versus the Sharks.
On to the morning papers:
- The aformentioned Petr Sykora is ecstatic about the possibility of lining up on a line with Sid the Kid and, in fact, had that chance Monday night versus the Habs.
- Eric Duhatschek has an intersting piece on Wayne Gretzky and the value of coaching experience in this morning's Globe and Mail.
- When Peter Forsberg is ready to make a decision on his playing career, Daniel Alfredsson plans on selling the appeal of the Senators and the ability for Forsberg to come in and just be himself.
- There is competition, but no animosity, between the two young goaltenders looking to back up Evgeni Nabokov this season in San Jose; Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News has the story.
- Youngster Patrick Berglund, the Blues' 2006 1st round pick, is being given every opportuntiy to crack the big club by coach Andy Murray.
- You can't blame Lightning prospect Mike Lundin for being a little star-struck at training camp, considering that just last year he was suiting up at the University of Maine and now he is skating on the same ice as Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
- As Tarik El-Bashir tells us, Viktor Kozlov will be lining up at center this season and most likely will be lining up with Alexander Ovechkin on his wing. (Writer's note: There is nothing like overvaluing off-season acquisitions. Under no circumstances should Viktor Kozlov be playing center on one of the top two scoring lines over Nicklas Backstrom. Moving Backstrom to the wing makes little sense considering his defensive game is far superior to that of Kozlov.)
- Canucks' coach Alain Vigneault doesn't believe Sami Salo's injury was a matter of fragility but rather was a result of his lackadaisical effort in the corner.
- Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province has the recap of last night's pre-season contest versus the Ducks. As Bothford notes, the Canucks are giving Ryan Shannon every opportunity to be a top-six forward.
- Pavel Kubina believes his off-season training will help to increase his foot speed in 2007/08 writes Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star.
- The line of Antropov/Sundin/Blake had a successful debut at the Leafs' Blue/White game on Monday.
- Alexander Steen is looking to bounce back from a subpar 2006/07 writes Tim Wharnsby of the Globe and Mail.
- Ryan Miller has become a veteran of outdoor games writes Kevin Allen of the USA Today.
- The people of North Bay, Ontario were overjoyed to be hosting an NHL exhibition game writes Craig Custance of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Former Cane Ron Francis has been brought into camp to help Carolina improve its powerplay in 2007/08.
- As Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune tells us, Jonathan Toews is excited to finally suit up in an actual NHL exhibition game.
- Jordan Leopold is trying to forget his injury filled 2006/07 and is looking forward to being able to contribute to the Avalance this season; Adrian Dater of the Denver Post has the story.
- David Vyborny was lucky to escape serious injury after his knee hit awkwardly into the boards over the weekend. The Jackets only expect him to miss two or three days of camp.
- Stars begin the first half of their pre-season writes Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.
- Red Wings' youngster Derek Meech is fighting tooth and nail to crack the team's defense writes Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.
- According to Fluto Shinwaza of the Boston Globe there is a heated battle at Bruins' camp for the fourth-line center position.
- Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun has an interesting piece on Mike Keenan and the importance he places on his relationship with his team's captain and alternate captains.
- Rhett Warrener is nervous to suit up in his home province tonight as his team takes on Florida in an exhibition game.
- Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal profiles who will replace the departed Jason Smith as captain of the Oilers.
- Kyle Brodziak has been awfully impressive at Oilers' training camp thus far. The St. Paul native had 2 goals and 1 assist in last night's exhibition contest.
- The additions of Brett McLean and Radek Dvorak excite coach Jacques Martin who values their character and upbeat atmosphere.
- Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune explains what Eric Belanger can bring to the table this season for the Wild. (Writer's note: Isn't Eric Belanger just the perfect Wild player???)
- The Kings are going to use their early season travelling to get to know each other better writes Lonnie White of the L.A. Times.
- If Alexei Kovalev plays in 2007/08 like he did in last night's exhibition game agaisnt the Pens, the Habs' forward to be the talk of town.
- Expectations are high for Martin Erat heading into the season writes Jessica Hopp of the Tennessean.
- After a brush with the law in juniors last seaseon, Matthew Corrente is lucky that the Devils are giving him a second chance; Rich Chere of the Star Ledger has the story.
- It looks like Devils' enforcer Cam Janssen suffered a dislocated shoulder fighting in the team's exhibition game last night.
- Henrik Lundqvist is excited about the Rangers' new additions this off-season. (Writer's note: Shocking isn't it? I thought he would against adding Gomez and Drury...)
- John Dellapina of the New York Daily News details the positives from Rangers' camp thus far.
- With depth at center this season, RJ Umberger will be used as a type of utility forward writes Ed Moran in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer.
- The decision to re-sign in Ottawa wasn't difficult for Mike Fisher considering his love for the city and organization.
For Illegal Curve, I'm Richard Pollock