2010-11 NHL season preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

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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.

NHL schedules hearings for Stars’ Oleksiak, Sens’ Borowiecki after separate incidents

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Jamie Oleksiak #5 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Two NHL players will have disciplinary hearings Sunday with the league’s Department of Player Safety for separate incidents that occurred Saturday.

The league announced Saturday evening that Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars will have a hearing for an illegal hit to the head of Philly’s Chris VandeVelde during the third period of the Flyers’ win.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The league also announced that Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki will have a hearing Sunday for a boarding penalty he took against Kings forward Tyler Toffoli.

The incident occurred early in the first period. Borowiecki received a major penalty, but remained in the game. Toffoli left the game to undergo concussion protocol, but he did eventually return.

The Avalanche ‘got our ass whooped tonight’ versus the Habs

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 10:  Artturi Lehkonen #62 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his first period goal during the NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre on December 10, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Yikes! Well, at least it’s over now.

The Montreal Canadiens, led by four goals from Max Pacioretty, destroyed the Colorado Avalanche by a final score of 10-1 on Saturday, this result coming just over a month after the Habs allowed 10 goals against Columbus.

The Habs led 5-0 before the midway point of the first period. They had six goals before the end of the first period. Hitting double digits seemed like an inevitability, as the Canadiens skated their opponents into the ice, making the Avalanche look foolish in their own end.

Frustrations boiled over late in the game when Alexei Emelin threw a massive hip check on Joe Colborne, adding further insult for the Avalanche.

The last time Montreal scored 10 or more goals in a game? Feb. 24, 1990, per the NHL.

Lots of fun for the Habs and their fans. But that was a completely miserable display from the Avalanche, which can fall to last place in the league’s overall standings, depending on the outcome of the Arizona-Nashville game tonight.

This was a game you would think the Avalanche would get an additional boost for. Jarome Iginla was playing in his 1,500th career game. Gabriel Landeskog returned from injury.

Nope. Didn’t happen. The Avalanche manufactured a lousy 16 shots on net. Goalies Calvin Pickard and Semyon Varlamov were both pulled in this one.

“It was embarrassing and we got our ass whooped tonight,” said Landeskog, per Mike Chambers of the Denver Post.

This is the third time in two weeks that an Avalanche core player or coach has ripped the effort or performance of the team. This is a core group that is no stranger to criticism for poor performances over the last few years, going back to Patrick Roy’s tenure.

After this, what is left to say?

“I’m going to take the blame for that one because we weren’t prepared to start the game,” coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post.

“They’re the best team in the league with the best record at home and we’re all the way down in the standings and we weren’t prepared to play. So that one’s on me.”

Bill Dineen, former NHL player and coach, passes away at age 84

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TORONTO (AP) Bill Dineen, the hockey icon who played with and later coached Gordie Howe, has died. He was 84.

The American Hockey League confirmed in a statement that Dineen died Saturday at his home in Lake George, New York.

Dineen, born in Arvida, Quebec, played 324 games in the National Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, winning two Stanley Cup championships in Detroit alongside Howe. Dineen made more of an impact as a player in the AHL, where he was a four-time 20-goal scorer over six seasons with Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester and Quebec.

“Bill Dineen devoted his career to our sport, winning two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, shaping the lives of numerous players during decades of coaching and crafting a hockey legacy that carries on today through his sons,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to the Dineen family on the passing of this distinguished and greatly respected individual.”

Dineen went into coaching after retiring as a player, taking the reins of the WHA’s Houston Aeros for six years starting in the 1972-73 season. He helped the Aeros win Avco Cup titles in 1974 and 1975 with teams featuring Howe and sons Mark and Marty.

Dineen was named the WHA’s coach of the year in 1977 and 1978. He spent a final WHA season as coach of the New England Whalers but was fired after 71 games with the Whalers in fourth place.

Dineen later coached the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers for the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons, giving him a chance to coach son Kevin.

He also spent six years as coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings, leading them to league titles in 1986 and 1989. Dineen was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2014.

Dineen’s sons Shawn, Peter, Gord, Kevin and Jerry all went on to professional hockey careers. Kevin Dineen, a veteran of 1,188 NHL games, is a former head coach of the Florida Panthers and is currently an associate coach with the Blackhawks. Gord Dineen played 529 games in the NHL and is an associate coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Report: Sens protesting Kings goal after clock issue

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Trevor Lewis #22 of the Los Angeles Kings scores a goal on Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators to take a 3-2 lead as Marc Methot #3 and Anze Kopitar #11 react during the second period at Staples Center on December 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There was more than one controversial moment during Saturday’s game between the L.A. Kings and Ottawa Senators.

Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki was given a major penalty for slamming Tyler Toffoli from behind into the boards, causing the Kings forward to undergo the league’s concussion protocol before he eventually returned to the game.

Later in the evening, there was a report from Darren Dreger of TSN that the Senators are protesting the Kings’ third goal of the game, which came with two seconds left in the second period. It was a pivotal moment in the game, as L.A. took a two-goal lead into the third period, before eventually winning 4-1.

Senators coach Guy Boucher didn’t place blame on a clock issue, but instead he put the onus on his team to not get scored on in that situation late in the period.

From LA Kings Insider:

“I’ll be honest with you, at that point for us we’ve just got to shut it down. We keep it at 1, it wasn’t about getting a goal there it was about getting off the ice. We had done the job in the second period, we had looked very good, we had the momentum, we needed to get into the third period with a one-goal lead. We’ve done it so many times this year coming back so I was confident we could come back, so no. I’m not looking at clocks, I’m not looking at penalties, I’m looking at ourselves just doing better.

The Kings now begin a stretch of nine games away from home. They play seven of those games before the holiday break, before resuming the trip on Dec. 28 versus the Canucks. The trip ends the following night in Edmonton.