The Pittsburgh Penguins have established themselves as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and more importantly the NHL. They are again a Stanley Cup favorite this season mostly because they have the two best players in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If they are to win it all this year, there’s going to be a few challenges for them to overcome to get there.
As we all know, the Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably the best offensive firepower in the league. They led the league last year in scoring and were not shut out until the Eastern Conference Final when Boston’s Tuukka Rask blanked them twice. Malkin and Crosby are both former 50-goal scorers and will most likely produce over 100 points this year and be nominated for the Hart Trophy; one of them will probably win the Art Ross Trophy. James Neal is a former 40-goal scorer and would’ve gotten there again if the NHL had a full season last year. They also have Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis coming off their best seasons yet, netting over 20 goals each. Beau Bennett is on the rise and may well very be on that second line.
The Penguins’ defense is also one of the best in the league. They have arguably the best top-four combination in Kris Letang-Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin. I love how they got Scuderi back in the offseason. He was a huge key to the team’s back-to-back Stanley Cup Final runs in 2008 and 2009, culminating with his Game 6 leg save against the Red Wings. The bottom two is shaky though. They have Matt Niskanen (who may be traded), Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres. They may send Despres down to the minors in order to go under the cap but that’s unknown.
The Penguins’ goaltending situation is interesting. Marc Andre-Fleury is still the No. 1 goaltender, which may surprise a lot of people because of his poor performances the last two years in the playoffs. The good news about Fleury is that he usually does well during the regular season and he has a new goaltending coach this year in Mike Bales. No one knows how long Tomas Vokoun is going to be out with the blood clot issue. It could be days, weeks or even months. The backup to Flower is going to be Jeff Zatkoff. He has no NHL experience but was very good in the minors for the Penguins’ farm team. I expect Fleury to rebound nicely this year.
I predict the Penguins to run away with the new Metropolitan Division this year and get the No. 1 seed in the East. I also think they will get to the Stanley Cup Final and win it all for the fourth time. I’m looking forward to the season, which already starts next Thursday!