There’s no doubting the Pittsburgh Penguins are a star-laden team that will have success in the regular season – that’s why we’re picking them to finish first in the Metro Division. But can they turn that regular season success into playoff wins?
2013-14 record: 51-24-7
Acquisitions: Steve Downie, Taylor Chorney, Christian Ehrhoff, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling
Departures: Lee Stempniak, Brian Gibbons, Chuck Kobasew, Harry Zolnierczyk, Matt Niskanen, Chris Conner, Brooks Orpik, Joe Vitale, Jussi Jokinen, Tanner Glass, Deryk Engelland, James Neal
Top five fantasy options: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Once again the Penguins are blessed with two of the best players in the world up front in centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In any given year, both are a threat for the Hart and Art Ross Trophies and provide matchup nightmares for opponents.
Pittsburgh has a stellar regular season goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury who, despite having some problems during the playoffs in the past, is a steady No. 1 over an 82-game schedule.
On the blueline, the team has a nice mix, with Christian Ehrhoff making up at least partially for the loss of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to free agency. Holdovers Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Olli Maatta can all move the puck, and the Penguins have great options in the pipeline.
The supporting cast up front held Pittsburgh back a year ago with awful possession numbers, and that group has been revamped. Even a minor improvement from the bottom six will be a boon for the superstar-laden Pens.
Bust: Despite their superb top-end talent, Pittsburgh has been a paper tiger in the playoffs lately, and a constant shuffling of wingers has done nothing to create a high-octane offense one would expect for a team featuring ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno’ up the middle. Will Patric Hornqvist be an upgrade over James Neal? Maybe. New addition Steve Downie said he’ll make players think twice before messing with Crosby and Malkin, but he’s no heavyweight.
There’s also the issue of Letang’s health. He had a stroke last season, and although it’s difficult to assess the long-term ramifications, it’s not an incident anyone involved should take lightly. And even if Orpik is trending down and Niskanen has only one great season under his belt, that pair played a lot and will be missed.
Lucky for the Penguins, they play in the Metro, and there are no other serious challengers to their division crown.
Bottom Line: Johnston had his Portland teams playing fast, offensive hockey, and that will be lovely for Crosby and Malkin. A healthy Pascal Dupuis will also be music to Sid’s ears. Despite recent post-season failures, this team is always talented enough to earn a high playoff seed. Fleury has a healthier backup this time in Thomas Greiss, who can ease the burden of the veteran and allow him to pace himself for the playoffs, where expectations will be high as usual.
Prospect To Watch: With Robert Bortuzzo out with an injury and Olli Maatta not yet cleared for games, there might be a spot in the opening night lineup for Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington – or both. Harrington, a second-rounder (54th overall) in 2011, scored 24 points in 76 games with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins last season and Dumoulin a second-rounder (51st overall) from 2009 acquired in the Jordan Staal trade, scored 21 points in 53 AHL games. Simon Despres, who played 36 NHL games last season, is also very likely to stick since he’d have to clear waivers to go back to the farm.
THN’s Prediction: First in Metro Division
Contributors: Ryan Kennedy, Rory Boylen