Pens May Not Be As Good But Still Very Good

When a team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals loses 7 key contributors to that team, many expect a decline.

Well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the decline may not be very steep at all.

At first glance, when you see all the players who left, it is very easy to hypothesize that the team has nowhere else to go but down.

Gone is Ryan Malone, the big power forward who showed a ton of heart and grit in the playoffs. Gone is Marian Hossa, the 3rd leading scorer in the spring and a tremendous two way threat not easily replaceable. Gone as well are players like the gritty Gary Roberts who was a heart and soul player for them, checkers Adam Hall and Jarko Ruutu, tough guy Georges Laraque and backup goalie Ty Conklin who saved the Pens mid year when Marc Andre Fleury was out with injury.

However, the essence of the team still remains and all the key parts this team is built around are still here and very poised to make another long playoff run.

The team still has its 3 headed monster up the middle with Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Jordan Staal. They have a deep defence led by Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney and they have an emerging star in goal in Fleury. To write them off is premature.

GM Ray Shero has done a very good job at plugging the holes left this summer and he managed to keep arguably the team’s most important free agent Brooks Orpik. Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko are proven skilled NHLers who will add depth on the wing while Eric Godard and Matt Cooke will help replenish some of the grit and toughness lost. Were these players the best available? Are they a marked improvement over the players who left? Probably not. But kudos to Shero for not breaking the bank, overspending, yet maintaining the team’s core.

Pretty much this will be the team Michel Therrien will have to work with to get the Pens to the next level. One thing Therrien has managed to do is to get his team, no matter who is in the lineup, to play strong defensively. It has made Fleury’s job easier in goal. It has helped a great deal having a veteran, talented and experienced defence. But players like Crosby, Staal, the younger players have given premium effort to the defensive side of the game. Therrien has implemented a solid system and the players are buying into it. Thats a tribute to sound coaching.

To get back to the finals, the team just might have enough talent to return. But do not bet against Shero from making an aggressive pitch for a top forward by the trade deadline. While his time in Pittsburgh was limited, Hossa had an impact. Its unlikely Shero will shy away from moving young assets again if he feels that he can get a player of Hossa’s calibre and productiivity. They did lose quite a bit of grit and toughness so that may be something Shero addresses as well. Like take Roberts for example. He didnt play in all the team’s playoff games, but his first shift in the playoffs set the tone and got the Pens rolling all the way to the Finals. Look for Shero to try and add someone with that kind of experience and leadership.

Lineup

C: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Beech
RW: Miro Satan, Petr Sykora, Matt Cooke, Eric Godard
LW: Pascal Dupuis, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy, Maxime Talbot

There is no stronger 1-2 punch up the middle that Crosby and Malkin. Malkin came into his own after Crosby got hurt and took his game to the next level. He was a handful to contain and having the both of them in the lineup causes fits for opponents checking them. Though Malkin struggled some for parts of the playoffs, the experience gained should push him to reach towards yet another level of excellence. Crosby is arguably the world’s best player. The vote is probably split between him and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby did show he could take his game to a new level in the playoffs and proved to be a horse when it mattered most. He will now need to go even further to take his Pens to championship status. There is probably no better playmaker in the game today and he is probably the most imaginative and creative player around.

The team is hopeful Satan, Sykora and Fedotenko provide some solid support scoring for their stars. It might be a reach to expect Satan to be that 40 goal man he once was, but playing along side any one of the Pens top centres could turn his career around. Fedotenko was a key cog in the Lightning’s championship from 2004 and his playoff experience will be invaluable. The Pens are hopeful he can replace some of the size and scoring ability lost with Malone gone.

The addition of Cooke could be a quiet coup for Shero. He is an agitator and solid penalty killer who could really add some sandpaper to the Pens. With players like Talbot, Godard, Dupuis, Kennedy, the team has a decent group of blue collar, hard working individuals that are willing to do the little things that make up a successful team. Their leader in that regard is young Staal. Staal has grasped with open arms the checking line centre role and emerged in the playoffs as a great all purpose player. He can play the PP, he can score, he can check, he is a handful to contain with his size, he is starting to become a great faceoff man and he showed a knack for making big plays at key times. While he could play on other team’s top lines for like half the league, he has embraced filling in this role with the Pens and will be a major piece of their puzzle in their drive for the Stanley Cup.

D: Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Mark Eaton, Darryl Sydor

The Pens have accumulated a significant amount of depth on defence and they know as well as anyone that they will need it. You know your defence is strong when a veteran and proven winner like Sydor is 9th on the depth chart. They have a ton of offensive skill with Gonchar, Whitney and Letang leading the way. Gonchar has also become a defensive stalwart adding to his tremendous offensive game that includes sound playmaking and a major league point shot. Whitney doesnt produce as much due to not being on the top PP unit, but he is an invaluable contributor who is tremendous at joining the rush. Letang is slowly but surely getting the hang of the pro game and while he is not big, he is very game and very willing to compete. His offence and skating are why he is here and if his defensive game continues to get better, he could be a big impact player. Players like Eaton, Gill and Scuderi know their role and that is to play a safe sound defensive game. Gill added a big need for size on defence, and while he is slow, he hardly looks that way with all the speed and skill the Pens have. The Pens kept the right free agent when they reupped Orpik long term. While he isnt a point getter, he can play mean and tough and brings those intangibles to a team that lost quite a bit of it in the off-season. That dominant shift he had in the finals was just a taste of the kind of impact he can have. All teams need this kind of character.

G: Marc Andre Fleury, Dany Sabourin

If there was any question about Fleury’s ability to be an elite goalie, he answered them in the playoffs. While it is still necessary to see if he can consistently be a top goalie over the next few years, the Pens certainly know now he is capable of playing at a top level. Fleury was terrific in the playoffs and if he can carry over that momentum into this year, that will be music to coach Therrien’s ears. So long as Fleury can keep those soft goals at a minimum and make the big saves in front of his stingy defence, the Pens will be a difficult team to beat. Therrien will need to ensure though that Fleury does not get worn down. The injury was a bit of a blessing as he was fairly fresh for the playoffs. Without Conklin, Sabourin will need to play well when he gets his chance as the Pens need
a reliable backup to take some pressure off Fleury.

Spares

F: Aaron Boogaard, Connor James, Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Minard, Bill Thomas, Adam Henrich
D: TJ Kemp, Mark Ardelan, Paul Bissonette, Derek Engelland, Danny Richmond

G: David Brown

Prospects

F: Jonathan Filewich, Ryan Stone, Kevan Veilleux, Joe Vitale, Johannes Salmonsson, Luca Caputi, Nathan Moon
D:
Brian Strait, Alex Goligoski, Alex Grant, Carl Sneep
G: John Curry

The Pens prospect ranks have been thinned out thanks to the team’s best players being with the main squad right now plus the Hossa trade which cost them top prospect Angelo Esposito and a 1st round pick. However they are not without some decent young talent. Filewich is a big body who has potential as a 4th line grinder. He lost a bit of his scoring touch this year and needs it back if he wants to be something more. Caputi had no trouble scoring, being among the leaders in the OHL. Veilleux is another big body the team has up the middle and if he can learn to use his size well, he should be an asset on the 3rd or 4th line. Stone is a checker and may make the team because he can fill that role.

Goligoski could probably start playing regularly in the NHL if there weren’t so many blueliners with the team. If he continues to develop well, he could very well allow the Pens to move a veteran Dman.

While Fleury is young enough to be around for the next decade, thus lessening the need for a top flight goalie prospect, the Pens may have found a future netminder in Curry who was on the all rookie team in the AHL and had a terrific playoff helping the farm team to the final. They will need this depth as they may need their next Conklin to perhaps step in and carry the parent team if Fleury gets hurt again.

The Pens didn’t pick until round 4 in the draft but picked up a solid prospect in Nathan Moon who has shown some offensive ability in the OHL.

Outlook

Are the Pens as good as the team that went to the finals last year? On paper, they are not. The departures were significant enough to be damaging to any team. However, do the Pens have the capability to get back to that level this season? Absolutely. Any team with two elite players like Malkin and Crosby will always have some success. The fact is the dynamic duo is surrounded by a pretty good supporting cast still and they have good goaltending, good coaching and a manager willing to do what it takes to win. The pieces are still in place for another long playoff run. It will now be up to the young guns to take their games to the next level so they can lead their team to glory.


66 Responses to Pens May Not Be As Good But Still Very Good

  1. intelligentscorpio says:

    I find it hard to believe that Rangers would beat out Montreal, Ottawa, Philly and Washington to get to the conference finals. Are you dreaming? They could not do it with Jagr, Shanahan, Straka and more importantly with Avery on the roster who was the main reason for them to get as far as they did in the playoffs.

    If you said, Pens against Sharks, now that's plausible.

  2. lukeleim says:

    the Rangers replaced those players as well as Tyutin with Zherdev, Naslund, Redden, arron voros, Dimitri Kalinin and dan fritsche… not bad if you ask me. the question is whether or not they gel together as nicely as the other group of players they had last year… My guess is yes.

  3. BruMagnus says:

    No… no it isn't.

  4. BruMagnus says:

    Where has kamullia ever had a positive outlook for the Pens? I cannot recall it ever.
    He never once predicted the Pens had the might to reach the Finals. And when the young guys did it, all he could do was bash them for it giving how it would affect the individual player's value on the market, or whine about how much we gave up for Hossa to get that far… despite the fact that half of the teams in the NHL who considered themselves contenders made some move at the deadline (SJ, Dallas) that didn't pay off.

  5. BruMagnus says:

    I will admit there is a certain charm or nostalgia to wanting to see the Habs win it in the 100th anniversary.
    If it's not the Pens, let it be the Habs. And certainly NOT the Wings.

  6. BruMagnus says:

    "not bad" – you are right.. it's outright TERRIBLE.

    Naslund is garbage. Pure garbage.
    Zherdev may be OK on a new team, but the pressure may blow his brains out.

    Redden, meh. With no forwards what's he going to do on the PP?

    Fritsche I like. ha

  7. HABSSTAR says:

    Or they have a massive post Cup Final hangover.  I would expect the Pens to be in the thick of it.  I would love to see an East Final between the Habs and Pens with both teams fireing on all cylinders!  It would be mind blowing.

    But for some reason lately the Cup Final's losers (or second place Champions if losers is a bit strong for some) have had disastrous seasons following their loss in the finals.  It will be interesting to see if the Pens can avoid that.  I think they can, but then again I thought Ottawa could have too!   

  8. BruMagnus says:

    Not only the Losers but the Winners too… if memory serves there hasn't been a team that's made the Finals that has passed the 1st round (and surely the 2nd round) in like 8 or 9 years!

  9. prospectiv says:

    Whitney & Staal for Nash seems fair to me.  Makes sense for both teams too!  Colombus needs an offensive D and a big center while Pitts needs a first line winger.

    Pittsburgh would be hard to stop afterwards even though defense would be more suspect.

  10. kamullia says:

    Listen, I have never weaseled out of any question or answer, and in fact I have been highly accurate on my overall take on the Penguins and especially of the bad moves that Ray Shero has done in the past. Hossa? Outright terrible move and you may be part of my flock to testify that I did say so minutes after the trade. I stood by it and the entire hockey world of media analysts (unlike the armchair analyst you are) has agreed to a high degree with that take on the trade, albeit after the dust settled. Hence, bad trade. End of story. Unless you are a delusional Penguins fan who lives in Vancouver, apparently…

    Datsyuk and Zetterberg play for the Detroit Redwings in a completely different lineup. The Red Wings do not have tons of firepower, unlike the Penguins have had in the past, they simply win by stifling their opponents. They do not do it in the same way that New Jersey does, but it is still the same general strategy in the sense that you do not get good shooting chances. Hence, Detroit uses a defensive scheme and they employ their forwards to do so. They probably do not have to, at least not as much as other teams (say the Penguins) but they choose to because it fits them. The difference is that these forwards are much better at it than their counterparts on the Penguins, while the Penguins are much better at offense than their counterparts forwards on the Red Wings. What does all that have to do when compared to the Pittsburgh scheme?? Absolutely nothing. Different scheme, different players, different lineup, different abilities. You work with what you have. Detroit has very good forwards who are great in helping out defensively, the Penguins have very good forwards who are best at offense. You go with your strengths typically, and this is what Detroit did, unlike the Penguins who do it by pure necessity, unlike Detroit. I wrote an article a while back on HTR that said that the Penguins needed to forgo their more defensive scheme for a more offensive one, and I stand by it. Why? Because when they have enough firepower (of which I am not convinced they do in this year’s lineup) at the wings, they should be able to win by purely outscoring the opposition. However, that takes a consistent goal tender, of which Fleury has yet to prove he can be for an entire season.

    Eaton is useless on the luxury box. Just like Mario is to the team on the ice right now. I most certainly can tell you that Shero went against most of the staff on their feelings about Eaton when he gave him a contract. I guess it pays off being an ex-Predator.

    Your take on NYR is flawed, in my opinion, but only time will tell who’s right. I say they win the Division, at least.

  11. kamullia says:

    I am a die hard Pens fan and have been for what I suspect is much longer than BruMagnus has even breathed air into his lungs, but that does not mean I cover up the Sun with one hand to hide from it. I call it as I see them, and I see the Pens taking a significant step back from last year, and it is a general thought also by most of their management because of their lack of confidences it their forward free-agent signings. Even Shero shows it with the lengths of their contracts, and rightfully so.

    So you and I disagree, respectfully, on how the Pens will do. Nothing wrong about that. It’s when people are extremely sarcastic and give birth to God in the process to talk about their team that I get annoyed. Any team, even mine.

    How so wish Bru was a Flyers fan, you have no idea…but I suspect most of the Pens fan/following on here do too from their comments about him.

  12. kamullia says:

    There is no positive outlook to have on the Pens about winning a cup as of yet, so why would I give a false outlook? There’s a saying that roughly translated means that finishing second is the worst humiliation you can have. Why? Because finishing last just means you never had a chance, things were terribly wrong or you were that terrible. Finishing second means you had a chance…and you blew it.

    When I see the Pens as a good solid candidate to win the Cup, I will say so, and yet I will still criticize anything they do wrong when they do. Give credit were merited, and point out the shames when necessary. Shero? Shame so far in my book.

    You are totally correct that I never predicted they’d reach the Finals…I don’t care for the Pens to reach the finals!!!! I care for them to win in the Finals. And although you must reach the finals in order to win, it was not even a close contest against Detroit, and I knew that and predicted as much right after the trade deadline (and partly why I was so animate about the Hossa trade being a horrible mistake, instead of buying their time). In fact, I predicted the Pens had no chance with any of the top seeds in the West, and things backed me up pretty good on that being Detroit was one of them. Oh yeah, I guess you forgot about that prediction that I did make, huh? How about you focus on the ones I made and tell me if I was right or wrong, instead of making up possible (wrongful) predictions I could have made and chose not to? You’d probably look like less of a jackass then.

    Go Ahead, be happy the Penguins finish second and have your own by yourself party in Vancouver for it. In Pittsburgh with my Pens friends, and down in Florida with some others, we are worried about Cups, not second place finishes.

  13. hockey_lover says:

    As Im sure most people on here know, yourself included, I am a Pens fan as well. However, Im much more inline with yourself as I can separate reality from fan bias.

    I have to disagree on one point. While I dont think the Pens are a big threat to win the cup, Id say they have a chance. At the very least, as good a chance as some of the other top teams. When teams like Tampa and Carolina can win, hey, anything can happen.

    I dont feel they will take a significant step back from last year. They will probably still finish in the top 4 (only if they dont win the division) and probably have around 96 – 99 points (I dont think they will break the 100 plateau this season).

    "IF" Fleury can keep his game up to what it was at the end of last season (post injury), I dont see any reason to believe why they CANT make it back to the finals. The wingers that Shero has signed, while not amazing, are certainly capable of handling some scoring load whilst playing with Crosby and Malkin. No, neither of them will likely get 100 points each but I dont think its unreasonable to expect 55 – 60 points out of each of them. Satan scored 45 points playing with a relatively weak Islanders team last year (2nd lowest scoring team in the league I believe). If he can get 45 points there, Id like to think he can get 65 playing with Sid. Same with Fedotenko. I think he can get 50 points playing with Malkin and Sykora.

    I certainly dont think the Pens are the be all and end all of the NHL, like some people. I think they will have an uphill battle next season to hopefully avoid the "cup finals hangover." But hey, many people are picking Detroit to win again and if THEY can avoid the hangover, I dont see why the Pens cant. Of course, many people said that about the Sens last yaer and that didnt go so well. I guess ya never know 😛

  14. Archion113 says:

    Nah… i took the Pens in all their Series' except the cup.

  15. BruMagnus says:

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/s_583150.html
    Still going to bash one-foot Whitney?
    Or did you, magically, know about all this long and were hiding it to protect your sources?

  16. kamullia says:

    Just because I do have information from near the organization, does not mean that I have all the information. This one in particular absolutely no one had it, or it would have been revealed long ago especially around some of my friends. In fact, not even the staff knew about it until the very end of the season.

    I personally learned of the news some hours before it was made public on the Penguins website (who was the first to disclose it) and I am told Whitney was reprimanded even more because of not disclosing the injury when they were first informed, and I concur with that message. If you’re injured and don’t let the staff know, you are doing damage to your team who plans around you being capable of doing things you are not.

    I’ll cut Whitney very little slack for having tried, but the vast majority of the criticism is merited. He was noneffective and he admittedly knew as much, yet kept on playing without disclosing it. Hence the most I would do for him at this point is kick him in the buttocks and tell him to quit whining and start working on getting better (figuratively since he has not really whined, and kudos for that).

    Listen, some of us are slightly blessed to have some good info, but that does not mean you have to be jealous because your only sources are Eklund and Spector. They get it right too…sometimes.

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