The Penguins are once again going to be a power team in the East, though they may want to temper the excitement a little. Free agent losses and injury (though stop-gap options are in place) will hamper the team a bit, but they still should be a high flying, offensively powered hockey team. To start, the lines they came out with for the opener:
Fedotenko - Crosby - Satan
Staal - Malkin - Kennedy
Cooke - Talbot - Dupuis
Bissonette - Taffe - Godard
Orpik - Gill
Scuderi - Letang
Sydor - Eaton
*Gonchar, Whitney injured
Now that the lines are out of the way, time to get to actual analysis.
The penguins are going to score goals, a lot of goals. Offense is the teams biggest strength and will continue to be so this season. Expect them to be near the top of the league.
The Penguins top line is going to do what top lines do, mainly, score goals. Fedotenko is a former 26 goal scorer, and Satan is a 40 goal guy. Playing with Crosby, both of these players should near, if not surpass, their career highs for goals. Assuming he is healthy, Crosby will once again be Crosby. Expect 100+ points and 30+ goals out of Crosby, with 20 - 30 goals and 50 - 60 points out of Satan and Fedotenko, or anyone else who may play with him.
The Penguins second line is going to keep going right where they left off last season. With Sykora coming back to play on the right wing, and Staal taking Malone's spot in front of the net, this line won't miss a beat. Expect similar numbers to last year 100+ points for Malkin with 40+ goals, and 20 - 30 goals, 40 - 50 points coming out of his wingers.
When Sykora comes back and bumps Tyler Kennedy down to Line 3, this will be one of the best energy lines in the NHL. Talbot is a Wild man, as are Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis. Expect a high amount of energy, a high amount of grit, and some decent scoring from this line, along with the occasional clutch performance. Fedotenko could also end up down here which would bump up the scoring some. With consistent playing time, expect breakout years from Talbot and Kennedy, each has a chance to get to 20 goals and around 30 to possibly 40 points. Expect 10 or so goals, with around 25 points for Dupuis.
This will be one of the most physical lines the Penguins have had in a long time. Godard takes Laraque's spot as a fighter (only one who knows he's only a fighter), Cooke will take Ruutu's spot as the annoyer, and Bissonette is a former defenseman who is a fighter as well. Pesonen should also see time here to add a bit of a scoring touch. This line will fight and draw penalties, and do both well. Don't expect many points out of any of these players, except for some potential ones for Pesonen depending on playing time. Taffe will see time here but there's not much to say about him, solid enough player.
Players to watch:
Janne Pesonen: The new European has everyone raving, and could add some scoring as he continues to adapt and improve his game. Expect a lot of playing time here.
Luca Caputi: The Pens other European has improved every year since he's been in the organization. He should get to the NHL pretty soon, and when he does, he will turn some heads.
Jonathan Filewich: Yes, he is here every season, but there has to be some reason for that. He may or may not ever reach his potential, but if he does, he should finally work his way off the Baby Pens.
Nathan Moon: The Pens top pick probably won't make the big club this season, but the Penguins do know how to pick them late, and Moon could eventually make a splash.
The defense has already been ravaged by injury, but luckily they are a deep enough unit to be able to play solidly until their Stars come back. Expect a solid unit, but don't be waiting for too much out of them.
Orpik and Gill are the most physical defensemen on the Penguins, while continuing to play solid defense. Don't expect too much in the way of scoring out of this two, but expect hits, and a lot of them. Also expect Gill to keep the crease clear for Fleury.
With Gonchar out, Letang is expected to pick up some of the scoring slack as a talented offensive defenseman. Expect a good amount of points from him. Scuderi is solid defensively, with a skill set that compliments Letang's well. Even though he scored in Game 1, don't expect him to do it again.
Sydor is not the player he once was, but is still a solid defender. Eaton is constantly injured, but when healthy he does nothing but block shots. Expect Goligoski to see significant time here, especially when Eaton goes down again. Don't expect much in terms of scoring, this line's job is to not do anything that blows the game.
*Eventual Line 1
All Gonchar does is score points and play great defense. He should routinely be in the running for the Norris, and never gets the respect he deserves. Whitney is also well on his way to becoming a stud defenseman. This line will give the Penguins a huge boost when they come back from injury.
Players to watch:
Alex Goligoski: The top prospect in the Penguins organization is expected to see significant playing time this season. A puck moving, offensive defenseman, he is expected to help in the absence of Segei Gonchar.
Carl Sneep: A 6'4 210 pound puck moving defenseman, Sneep should also see a good amount of time with the Penguins due to the thin defense corps. He is good with the puck, and brings the added combination of size and strength.
Brian Strait: Should also see playing time this year, Strait is a defensive defenseman through and through. He focuses on his own end, is a gritty player, and brings a leadership aspect. Should end up a rock on the blue line eventually.
This year the goaltending all depends on the maturity of Fleury. He improved by leaps and bound last year, but there's no Conklin to step in for him if he struggles or goes down again.
Marc-Andre Fleury is vastly improved from a few years ago. While he still has a tendency to give up a soft goal every once in a while, he has the athletic ability to make saves that no other goalie in the league can. He needs to continue to mature, but once he reaches his potential, there might not be anyone better.
Sabourin isn't bad, but then again he isn't good. He is right where he should be as a backup, he can do pretty well when he has to be in goal, but can't hold up as a starter if Fleury went down.
Players to Watch
An athletic goalie once considered a top collegiate talent, Curry was picked up as a free agent by the Pens. He came on fire during the year, posting a sub 2.5 goals against average and a .900+ save percentage. If either goalie went down, Curry looks like he could step in just fine.
Also an athletic netminder, Brown had a pretty darn good season himself behind John Curry. Posting a sub 3 GAA and a .850+ save percentage, Brown will not see any playing time in the NHL, but looks like he knows how to play some hockey.
After watching the first game, I'm very concerned about the Penguins power play. They won't be as bad as that all season, but missing Gonchar hurts. Almost all his points came on the power play. Letang should take off some of the slack, and putting Malkin on the blue line will replace the shot, but there's nobody who can replace the whole package. Whitney will also be missed with his backdoor play Crosby loves along with his wicked shot. The forwards will do just as well as ever. The power play should be pretty good, but not as stellar as last year until we get our defensman back.
The PK could actually end up spectacular this year. It will still hurt being without defenseman Whitney and Gonchar, but Talbot and Eaton are some of the best penalty killers in the league. Also, Therrian is started to use his big guns in Crosby and Malkin on the PK, which could lead to a lot of shorthanded goals like the one we saw in the first game. With a great group of shot blockers in Talbot, Eaton, and Dupuis, and some goal scorers to get breakaways, this group has the potential to be one of the best in the league, especially when Gonchar and Whitney return from injury.
The Penguins will again be spectacular on offense, solid on defense, solid goaltending, and good on special teams. Expect them to struggle a bit in the beginning, but eventually get their act together, especially with Gonchar and Whitney. Expect them to win the division over the Flyers and Ranger, and pull down one of the top seeds in the East. Though a lot hinges on Fedotenko and Satan, they should easily step up and fill the gaps in the team. There may be some deals waiting at the trade deadline. A return to the cup is not out of the question, though the team should probably focus on the 2009-2010 season, when there will be a stellar crop of free agents, along with Detroit losing many of their players. I would not be surprised to see the Pens go deep into the playoffs, but I like the cup to come to Pittsburgh in 2010, not 2009.
Let's Go Pens!