As the members of the Minnesota Wild hit the ice for their first official practice today, we're still getting into game day shape on Hockey Wilderness. We're about halfway through our NHL previews, and our quest to bring you a bit more knowledge on the teams we'll see at the X this season.
Today we take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that everyone builds up to be the best of the best, but then almost gets wiped out by the Islanders in the first round. Thanks to Hook Orpik from Pensburgh for taking some time to give us some info on the Pens.
Offensive threats -Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are monsters, James Neal has scored 61 goals in the last 120 games, Kris Letang put up a point per game, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are coming off their best offensive seasons in their careers. The Penguins won't hurt for offensive and have plenty of weapons, driven by two guys with legitimate chances to win the scoring title.
Defensive threats - Paul Martin rebounded into having a fine season in 2013 and pairs with Brooks Orpik to eat the team's toughest minutes. Free agent addition Rob Scuderi will join the mix and Letang is likely to play 25-26 minutes a night in all sorts of roles.
Un-sung heroes - Brandon Sutter isn't Jordan Staal but he plays some really tough minutes and anchors the 3rdline and penalty kill and did a really good job last year, while still chipping in some goal scoring. Craig Adams is the epitome of the "giving it all ya got" cliché.
Goaltending - A huge question mark. Marc-Andre Fleury (65-25-4, .914 save %) has been pretty solid in the past two regular seasons but just disastrous in the past two playoffs, as you may have heard. The Pens sent him to a sports psychologist and hope to get his focus/mental game back up to par when he was the playoffs save % leader in 2008. That seems light-years away right now, though. Tomas Vokoun is back as the backup, but at age 37 and with a spotty injury history Vokoun isn't going to give the team a full-time option in net.
Coaching - Dan Bylsma got a contract extension this summer, a vote of confidence from management despite recent playoff disappointments. He'll also be the coach of Team USA in Sochi. He's something of a player's coach and his systems and strategies display a rigid structure of putting his team in a position of success. But, as always, it comes down to execution by the players on the ice.
Prospects - Beau Bennett and Simon Despres have graduated into full time NHL'ers and both should contribute as lineup regulars this season. The Pens have several blue-chip defensemen prospects (Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington, Olli Maatta, Brian Dumuolin) but most are years away from stepping up to the NHL. The team doesn't have a lot of forward prospects that project into sure-fire NHL players, but several collegiate players that may or may not develop in years to come.
How do you feel about the depth of your team? - Not great. The Pens lost Jarome Iginla, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy and Brenden Morrow from last season and have only brought Matt D'Agostini in. They'll try to replace with internal candidates (like Tanner Glass, Jussi Jokinen, Dustin Jeffrey) and hope the big guns can stay healthy enough. I don't think the Pens will have nearly as good of a bottom six forward crew as they've had in the past few years, but they're so stacked with talent it might not matter.
Who are your fan favorites, and why are they favorites? Crosby and Malkin, for the obvious reasons. Letang is popular for his flowing hair. Adams and Scuderi have more of the cult followings.
Who are must follow writers on twitter for your team? @MikeColligan - has the best access of bloggers and really insightful, @jmarshfof and @TPBadam @TPBDerek. For MSM- @JoshYohe_Trib and @MolinariPG are all business and no drama.
Who are must follow fans? (preferably non-crazy fans) @Pensburgh, @lgp_netwolf, @MikeDarnay (crazy though), @stoosh10 @TheConfluence are some of our many favorites