For once, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals have something in common in the offseason. They were both eliminated in seven games by the eighth seed Montreal Canadiens. This was a disappointing end to the year for the Pens, who finished fourth in the league and second in the competitive Atlantic Division. They will without a doubt reach the postseason this year and should be a contender for the Stanley Cup.
Offense: A- Led by their young captain, Sidney Crosby, the Penguins offense always has the potential to score goals. Crosby lost his power forward linemate Bill Guerin to Philadelphia in the offseason, but will no doubt continue to pile up the points with Chris Kunitz and Mike Comrie, the latter of which General Manager Ray Shero picked up in the offseason. Center Evgeni Malkin will come into the season hungry to bounce back from a relatively low scoring year (77 points in 67 games) where he missed time due to injury. The Penguins depth down the middle continues to third line center Jordan Staal, a potential first line pivot on any other team. The three centers wearing gold and black in the new Consol Energy Center make the Penguins one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup every year.
Defense: A- General Manager Ray Shero did the most work this offseason upgrading the Penguins back end. While he lost future Hall of Fame defenseman and power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar to free agency, Shero brought in shot blocking machine Zbynek Michalek and puck moving defenseman Paul Martin from the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, respectively. Offensive defenseman Kris Letang should thrive under even more power play time now that Gonchar is in Ottawa.
Goaltending: A- Not much has changed in net for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury will start the vast majority of games in the regular season and all of them in the playoffs. With the talent of the team in front of him, the Penguins postseason aspirations will hinge on the performance of Fleury. Veteran backup netminder Brent Johnson will provide solid support should Fleury miss time due to injury.
Special Teams: A Head Coach Dan Bylsma usually splits up Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at even strength to spread the talent out throughout the depth chart. On the power play, however, Penguins fans get to see the two superstars make magic on the ice. Between Crosby’s superb playmaking abilities and Malkin’s devastating one timer, the Penguins are bound to be in the lead for power play percentage. Don’t count Sid the Kid out as a goal scorer though, as he put in a measly 51 goals last year, tying him with Steven Stamkos for the goal scoring title. The Penguins might miss Sergei Gonchar’s uncanny ability to create offense from the point, however Kris Letang and Paul Martin are expected to see significant power play time and contribute to an already lethal group.
The addition of Zbynek Michalek will round out an already stellar Pittsburgh penalty kill. At 84% the Penguins penalty kill was good for second in the Atlantic Division.