NHL season countdown: Pittsburgh Penguins (#1)

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September 30, 2013 by andymisek

The Penguins are a dominant regular season team, and with very little offseason changes, they should continue their domination. Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world and Evgeni Malkin is arguably the 2nd best. With Crosby and Malkin one two down the middle, there is no reason the Pens shouldn’t dominate year after year. Add in Brandon Sutter as your elite 3rd line center, Kris Letang who is always getting looks for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman), and the emergence of Beau Bennett and you have a receipt for a stupendous year. This is why we ranked Pittsburgh as our number one regular season team in the NHL Season Countdown.

Pittsburgh Penguins logo (Photo: SportsLogos.net)

Offseason

Extremely quiet! They did not have a  first round pick in the 2013 draft as they traded it away in the Jarome Iginla trade and they only signed Rob Scuderi and Matt D’Agostini in free agency. Matt Cooke, Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray, and Brenden Morrow left via free agency. Also Tyler Kennedy was sent to San Jose. Pittsburgh will be relying on the same players  as they did during the 2009 Stanley Cup run.

Offense

Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz have developed a great chemistry. While many say, “who couldn’t develop chemistry with Crosby”, it was Kunitz who was able to place 7th in scoring in 2013 with 52 points in 48 games. Pascal Dupuis will be flanking Crosby on the right side again.

 

 

This has to be the most deadly 2nd line in the league: Evgeni Malkin centering 2011-2012 40 goal scorer James Neal and Sophomore Beau Bennett. Wow! Malkin and Neal have proven right from the beginning of Neal’s stint in Pittsburgh that they have great chemistry. The two have been lights out. Now adding Bennett to the picture, scoring 14 points in 26 games his rookie season, will only make this 2nd line more fearsome.

 

 

Behind the threatening top two lines comes a tough bottom six lead by Brandon Sutter. He is an elite 3rd line center who can shut down an opposing top line and still pot 15-20 goals. Sutter will be flanked by Matt D’Aogostini and Jussi Jokinen.  While the shoot out is a gimmick, Jokinen is a shootout specialist. Stealing a few points in the shootout is the difference between home ice in the playoffs and being a lower seed.

 

 

Defense

Kris Letang is a Norris caliber defenseman with great offensive instinct and he isn’t too shabby in his own end either. Obviously, his play in his own end isn’t up to his offensive standard which is why he is paired with Rob Scuderi. Playing in Los Angeles the last few years , Scuderi won a cup and was paired with Drew Doughty. Scuderi allowed Doughty feel more comfortable taking chances offensively. Hopefully Scuderi has the same effect on Letang.  Scuderi also won a cup in Pittsburgh back in 2009. Success follows him.

Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin will be manning the 2nd pairing. Martin had a bit of a bounce back season in 2013 where he scored 23 points in 34 games and was a plus 14 overall. He is expected to continue that play into 2013-2014, especially being paired with a consistent and physical Brooks Orpik. Matt Niskanen and Simon Despres should be the bottom pairing.

 

 

Goaltending

Marc-Andre Fleury is a great regular season goaltender. Sure, he has his struggles in the playoffs, but this is a regular season countdown. Fleury does have a solid defense playing in front of him and has a .910 save percentage and 2.66 goals against average. He isn’t elite, but he will get the job done. Fleury also has a good back up in Tomas Vokoun who stole Fleury’s crease during the 2013 playoffs after a shaky few games against New York Islanders.

Overall

Any team lucky enough to have both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is going to be good. Throw in Letang,  Orpik, Sutter, Neal and Bennett and you have a power house. Pittsburgh is a good team. Don’t let their being swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals fool you, they can make a run for the cup each and every year.  Expect Pittsburgh to lead the way in the Eastern Conference and, barring injury, the NHL.

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