Just like yesterday, today’s (well, technically, it is two days later) FanSided season preview features an Atlantic division team. We’ll take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, who despite losing both Crosby and Malkin to injury, somehow captured a four seed in the Eastern Conference. After gaining a 3-1 series lead against the Lightning in the first round, however, the ‘Pens lost three straight; now, they’ll look for much more success in 2011-2012. This should be expected next season, especially if health is not as much of a negative for Pittsburgh. Over at Pens Labyrinth, Bill Mayer believes his Penguins could have a chance at another Stanley Cup.
Three words will determine the Penguins fate this season: Sidney Crosby’s health. If Crosby can return to form, the Pens will be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. If Sid misses significant time with post-concussion symptoms or – gasp! – gets re-injured, this could be another one-and-done playoff season.
There’s no doubt Evgeni Malkin’s and Jordan Staal’s health are also vital to Pittsburgh’s success, but let’s be honest – this is Crosby’s team. Without him last year, the Pens just couldn’t score. This proved to be a fatal flaw against Tampa in the playoffs.
Due to a lack of significant offseason activity, this is virtually the same exact team as last season. The Pens suffered minimal roster casualties while standing pat with its core. Whether this is a good or bad decision by managment remains to be seen. With goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and a solid blueline, the Pens have things covered defensively. Offensively, the team needs James Neal to, you know, score, and repeat 20-goal campaigns from Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy would sure help the cause. Let’s take a closer look at the 2011-12 Pens.
To read the rest of this Penguins’ outlook, click here.
The first of six Devils-Penguins games this season comes on October 22nd in Pittsburgh; after this, it’s over two months before these two teams faceoff again, on the last day of 2011 at the Prudential Center. The next matchup will take place a week later, on January 7th in Pittsburgh, followed by two meetings in New Jersey on February 5th and March 17th. Finally, the ‘Devs and ‘Pens will faceoff for the final time of the regular season, for the second straight year, on March 25th in Pittsburgh.
Personally, I believe these two teams could only have a “rivalry” when both are very competitive in the division. I am probably one of the few fans in the Northeast (the region, not the division…but you knew that) that does not hate the Penguins (or Crosby, specifically), as I have always respected the way they play the game and their fans as well. In fact, after Marty broke the shutout record a few seasons ago, the Penguins’ faithful gave him a very nice ovation; could you imagine that at the Garden, or in Philly?
So, how about a brief look at the 2011-2012 Penguins. If healthy, this is about as strong a team as there is in the NHL. Offensively, the star power is there (at least we know Malkin is back, at the moment), and there is plenty of depth behind him. Thus, Pittsburgh could see plenty of production from all of their lines this season, which could be especially important if Sidney Crosby misses a large period of time. Their blue line is solid as well, with stalwarts defensively as well as d-men who have forchecking ability, such as former Devil Paul Martin. Marc-Andre Fleury is back between the pipes for the Penguins, and figures to be once again backed up by Brent Johnson, who seemingly always plays well against the ‘Devs.
Overall, even if health is a problem this season in Pittsburgh, the Penguins still figure to be an elite team in this league. We can assume they will get Crosby back at some point (better sooner than later, obviously), which should provide a humongous boost to an already strong forward group. This team has talented veterans and forwards throughout their roster, and it is hard to find a weakness on this team. Plus, they have one of hockey’s best coaches in Dan Bylsma at the moment, who has done an outstanding job since taking over three years ago, taking the Penguins from 10th to 4th and a Stanley Cup championship. In the end, there is no reason this team could not win at least a couple series, and if they do stay healthy, put me on the record as saying they will bring home the cup once again.
Tomorrow’s preview will feature the Phoenix Coyotes, who look to return to the playoffs without their star goaltender in net.