2010-11 NHL season preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

11 Comments

Thumbnail image for crosbyandmalkinunder25.jpgLast season: (47-28-7, 101 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division, 4th in Eastern Conference) It’s a little bit much to expect an NHL team to make it to the Stanley Cup finals three seasons in a row, so the beauty of the Penguins’ 2009-10 campaign is in the eye of the beholder. Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury had some low moments, but the team fell just a few strides short of their first Atlantic Division title in the Sidney Crosby Era. It seemed like they just ran out of gas against the Montreal Canadiens, who beat them in an ugly Game 7.

Head coach: Dan Bylsma enters his third season as coach, although this will only be his second full campaign. No NHL coach has complete job security, but I’m guessing that his 2008-09 Stanley Cup ring will keep him off the hot seat for this season. His coaching skills will be put to the test in a tough Atlantic Division, featuring division champ New Jersey and Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia.

Key departures: D Sergei Gonchar, F Bill Guerin, F Ruslan Fedetenko, D Mark Eaton, F Alexei Ponikarovsky, D Jordan Leopold. People are underestimating the loss of Gonchar. The Penguins’ power play rarely operated on the level people expected from their collection of talent, but Gonchar was a key motor and logged huge minutes. Guerin and Fedetenko weren’t elite wingers, but the team’s now even weaker in that area.

Key arrivals: D Paul Martin, D Zbynek Michalek, F Mike Comrie, F Arron Asham, F Brett Sterling. GM Ray Shero threw down the gauntlet by spending big money on Martin and Michalek, two good defensemen whose best work often goes unnoticed. Comrie and Asham should be decent depth players while Sterling gets the chance to play the role of Petr Sykora. I don’t think he has the stuff to pull that off, though.

Thumbnail image for fleurybad.jpgUnder pressure: Marc-Andre Fleury needs to justify his $5 million salary while Malkin has a lot to prove after struggling with injuries (and maybe a little fatigue?) last season. They were two of the biggest reasons the Penguins won the Cup in ’09 because as they go, so goes the team.

Protecting the house: Unlike their cross-state rivals in Philly, the Penguins are making a huge investment in one goalie. Fleury’s a scapegoat often enough in Pittsburgh that it’s a go-to joke among beat writers, but the bottom line is that ‘MAF’ needs to improve his play this season. Backup Brent Johnson is a solid (but clear) No. 2.

They don’t have a Norris-worthy guy like Chris Pronger, but the Penguins are strong along the blueline … and with good reason, because they’ve certainly invested a lot of clams in that area. They have a headhunting hitter (Brooks Orpik), offensive flash (Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Ben “Dr.” Lovejoy) and steady all-around guys (Martin, Michalek). I wouldn’t rank them as the best in the league, but they might be the most versatile.

Top line we’d like to see: Malkin-Crosby-Chris Kunitz. Even in my imagination, I cannot put Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal on the same line. That hypothetical team would be too thin at center, after all. Instead, I’d have Kunitz doing all the forechecking and dirty work while Crosby and Malkin pick apart the defense with cruel efficiency.

You never know, that line might actually see the light of day on occasion, too.

Oh captain, my captain: I always picture Crosby as the type of guy who would yell at me for running at half-speed during wind sprints during football practice. While I hated that guy, I’d imagine that personality type works better for people who actually have athletic ability.

erichandsofgodard.jpgStreet fighting man: While Mike Rupp can take care of himself, it’s all about Eric ‘Hands of’ Godard. Those hands aren’t around to finish a Crosby/Malkin one-timer. Instead they exist to hurt people. Considering that other Atlantic Division teams loaded up on pugilists, Godard might need to hire another cook to prepare all of those knuckle sandwiches.

Best case scenario: Prized prospect Eric Tangradi turns out to be the second coming of Kevin Stevens and gives the Penguins a genuine power forward. Martin seamlessly replaces Gonchar’s power-play productivity while Michalek proves to be a heightened version of Rob Scuderi (with a little offensive punch). Crosby keeps scoring goals, Malkin stays healthy and racks up 100 points and Fleury plays like an elite goalie. Cut to the Penguins’ second Cup parade in three years.

Worst case scenario: The Penguins end up third in the division and eighth overall in the East, face off against their kryptonite (the Devils) and get booted out of the first round. Malkin and Crosby can’t get it done without quality wingers while Fleury allows a bonehead goal every three games. Martin and Michalek either underachieve or get injured. Bylsma gets food poisoning from a bad burrito.

Keeping it real: The Penguins are a team built for the playoffs rather than the regular season. Without Gonchar or proven scoring on the wings, they won’t score many “easy” goals. I see them coming in second in the Atlantic, sliding into their typical 4th or 5th seed and getting booted out of the conference finals by a deeper team like Washington, New Jersey or Philadelphia.

But, really, they could grind out another Cup win. They’re a rugged, deep and talented group but also have some disturbing weaknesses.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with a one being the worst and a five being the best, you have to think they’re a 5, right? When you’re that strong down the middle, have a defense that deep and employ a goalie who can stand on his head (when the lights are on, at least), it’s tough to discount that team’s chances. They have just as good a shot as any team in the East.

Seguin resumes skating in Dallas, Ruff notes ‘they have flights into St. Louis every day’

Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin makes a pass during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Getty Images
1 Comment

The latest on Tyler Seguin (and fellow injured Stars forward Patrick Eaves), per the Dallas Morning-News:

Q: On the statuses of Patrick Eaves (leg) and Tyler Seguin (Achilles)

Lindy Ruff: “Both skated today, both progressing.”

Q: On if Seguin and Eaves will travel with the team to St. Louis for Game 3

LR: “No, but they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Seguin, as you’ve probably heard, hasn’t played since a Game 2 win over Minnesota in the opening round.

That was on Apr. 16.

Dallas’ All-Star center returned from a partially lacerated Achilles to participate in said Game 2, a nasty injury that cost him the final 10 games of the regular season and the series opener against the Wild.

The Stars say this latest injury has nothing to do with the previous one, but reporters haven’t been privy to much information beyond that.

In speaking last week, Ruff didn’t even want to put a timetable on Seguin’s return, for fear of what an inaccurate timetable might cause.

“I really can’t,” Ruff said. “I don’t even have a guesstimate on it. I don’t even think it’d be fair. If I guessed and if I’m off, everybody else will be wondering why did he guess that?”

GM Jim Nill did say the club expected Seguin to miss the first two games of the Blues series and, as of last Thursday, confirmed Seguin wasn’t skating.

“He’s day-to-day,” Nill explained. “Once he gets on the ice, it’s probably four to five days from there.”

This series, currently tied 1-1, will resume on Tuesday from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Trotz ‘disappointed’ in length of Orpik suspension, suggests NHL favors Penguins

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, top center, shouts to his players during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Friday, March 25, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
AP
13 Comments

Barry Trotz thinks the NHL is biased in favor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s the only way to take Trotz’s remarks following Brooks Orpik‘s three-game suspension for hitting Olli Maatta late.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised based on who we’re playing and all that,” the Capitals’ head coach told reporters today.

When asked what he meant by that, Trotz replied, “Take it for whatever you want.”

Orpik, meanwhile, called the NHL’s decision “fair.”

“Bad hit,” he said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Split-second decision you make. You’ve just got to live with it.”

But let’s get back to Trotz, because he was also upset that Orpik was labelled a “predator” by NBC Sports commentator Mike Milbury.

“A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people,” said Trotz, per the Washington Post. “And I think it’d be very unfair to paint him that way. If you know anything about Brooks, he’s one of the classiest guys, one of the true pros in the league. And so I just think that’s really unfair.”

Regardless of Orpik’s intentions, Maatta will miss tonight’s Game 3 with an “upper-body injury.” The speculation is that the young defenseman suffered a concussion on the hit. The Penguins are hopeful that he’ll be able to play again in this series, but aren’t certain.

As for Orpik’s spot in the lineup, that’s expected to be filled by Dmitri Orlov, a healthy scratch in Game 2.

 

Leafs sign Russian d-man Zaitsev

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev #2 of Russia dumps the puck in as forward Cody Eakin #21 of Canada tries to block the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group B game between Canada and Russia on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

The Toronto Maple Leafs made it official today, announcing the signing of Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year entry-level contract.

It was reported all the way back in January that the Leafs were expected to do just that.

From the press release:

Zaitsev, 24, collected 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 46 regular season games with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this past season, before adding 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 20 playoff games. His 13 points in the post-season were tied for the most among KHL defenceman. Zaitsev was twice selected to play in the KHL All-Star Game and was named a KHL first-team all-star in 2014-15.

Safe to say that the undrafted Zaitsev will have a good chance to crack a Leafs defense that’s short on overall quality, and especially short on right shots.

Losing Granato might not be only change behind Detroit’s bench

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, left, and assistant Tony Granato watch their preseason NHL hockey game against the Blackhawks during the third period at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
AP
3 Comments

Jeff Blashill will definitely have one new assistant in Detroit next season, with Tony Granato having accepted the head coaching gig at Wisconsin.

But could other changes be coming as well?

From MLive:

Pat Ferschweiler, in his first season as an NHL assistant coach, was in charge of a power play that struggled much of the season, despite finishing 13th in the league following a late surge. It was ineffective in the playoffs (1 for 25).

Blashill didn’t rule out changing roles on the staff.

“We’ll look at everything,” Blashill said. “How I can be better is partly how we all can be better as a staff, so we’ll look at everything in totality and how we can make ourselves more productive. Our goal is to try to get better and if that’s done through our staff then we’ll certainly address that.”

Given Blashill’s the NHL’s second-youngest coach (at 42) and Ferschweiler doesn’t have a ton of experience, the Granato loss becomes even more profound. He was the only guy on staff with history as a player and former NHL head coach.

As such, all signs point to Detroit going for a veteran hockey guy behind the bench (or hockey guys, plural, if Ferschweiler isn’t retained.)

But who?

Adam Oates would be an interesting name, if Oates hadn’t recently told Sportsnet “I presume my coaching days are over,” and “I’m not planning on coaching anymore.” Remember, Oates spent some time at Detroit practices this year as a power-play/skills coach (read more from the Free Press here) and is familiar with the organization, having broken in with the Red Wings during the mid-80s.

What’s more, Oates has experience as a head coach on two NHL benches — Washington and New Jersey — and also served as an assistant in Tampa Bay.