Entering the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are considered the favorites to win the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
But in order to do that, several things have to go according to plan.
Here are the top five things the Pens need to hoist the Cup when it is all said and done:
5. Improved play from the blue line
Paul Martin gets a lot of heat here and he certainly has to be much better and play at a level that warrants a $5 million per year salary, but he isn’t the only Penguins defensemen that must be better than they were a season ago. Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang will be counted on to be great, but guys like Martin, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen must be solid and avoid countless breakdowns. Also keep an eye on the Penguins young defensemen such as Simon Despres and other who will be pushing for playing time. In a shortened season it may be hard to work young players into the mix, but regardless of who gets a sweater on game night, the Penguins must have a solid six.
4. Evgeni Malkin to have a big season
Malkin tore things up last season and must do so again this season. He is in midseason form after tearing up the KHL, recording 65 points in only 37 games. Hopefully he picks right up where he left off and has a huge year.
3. Own the Atlantic Division
With only 48 games, winning games inside the division becomes even more important. The Atlantic Division is likely the toughest division in the NHL and the Penguins will be playing 18 of their 48 games inside the division, making almost every game huge. They must take care of business and avoid a slow start. Starting slowly can kill a team in a short season and the Penguins are no exception.
2. A rebound season from Marc-Andre Fleury
Had there been a full season, no player would have been under more scrutiny to start the season than Marc-Andre Fleury. Time has passed, so the pressure may not be as great on Fleury, but his performance in the playoffs is still fresh in people’s minds. A slow start by Fleury will create some uneasiness. The Flower must be great in 2013. Despite having the likes of Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins will go only as far as their goaltender will take them.
For once it would be nice to see this team stay healthy and not have to rely on the pipeline between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a regular basis. Speaking of health, Crosby is finally completely healthy and it would be nice to see him stay that way. If he does, he is in store for a big year. And if the Pens stay healthy as a unit, the sky could be the limit for how good this team could be.