Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 10/6/11

NHLHS Pittsburgh Penguins Correspondent Robbie Naugle previews the Penguins’ 2011-2012 season.

 

 

Last season ended in disappointment for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as they were ousted in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in seven games by the Tampa Bay Lightning. What made that loss even more painful was the Penguins surrendering a 3-1 series lead and allowed the Lightning to win the final three games, two of which were in Pittsburgh. It was the earliest playoff exit for the Penguins since they were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a sad end to what looked like a promising season. It was a promising season that was turned on its head by the loss a the team’s two biggest players. With Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin both sidelined with season ending injuries, the Penguins were left to win games relying mostly on great defense and better goaltending. They finally hit a wall in that series against the Lightning and had to spend the rest of the spring watching the playoffs rather than playing them.

If there was one thing that Pittsburgh fans can be proud of from last year though, it is the fight their team put up for over half a season without their two biggest stars. They amassed the second most points for a regular season in franchise history and finished virtually tied for the Atlantic division with the Philadelphia Flyers. They managed to clinch the fourth overall seed in the Eastern Conference and actually finished with more points than the third seed and eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. The center combination of Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal only played a combined two games together all year. Even despite that, the Penguins still managed to have one of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history.

2011-2012 is a new year and a fresh start for every NHL team. Guys will be looking to break out, rookies will be trying to prove their worth, some guys will be looking to bounce back, and a select few will just be looking to stay the course. This is a chance to start over and to make amends for last season’s woes. Thursday is the start of something that will take 9 months to play out. Thursday, Evgeni Malkin will lead the Pittsburgh Penguins on the ice to start a rebound year for a team that had so much stolen from it last season. This is about proving to the NHL that they are the most dangerous team in the league.

The Penguins will start the 2011 season with a somewhat different look than how they ended last season. For one Evgeni Malkin will be back in the Pens lineup for the first time since having his knee blown out by Tyler Meyers in February. The Penguins will then have to wait on their other star, Sidney Crosby, to be cleared by doctors to return to game action after suffering a concussion way back during the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Until he returns they will still be playing a man down and will rely a lot on Malkin to carry them while he looks to rebound after a few rough seasons. In a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Malkin said he was highly motivated and stronger than ever heading into training camp. If you saw him play during the preseason, it is easy to see how motivated he is. The real question now is…Is the NHL ready for the new Evgeni Malkin?

Accompanying Malkin and Crosby in Pittsburgh will be an array of forwards who will all be counted on to contribute to the offense this season to help the Pens offense regain its position as one of the most potent in the league. James Neal, Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis are all players that could contribute over 20 goals this season which would be a nice compliment alongside what Crosby and Malkin could put up in the long run.

As for playing defense, Craig Adams, Joe Vitale, Dustin Jefferey, Matt Cooke and Richard Park will be counted on to kill penalties and cause havoc for opposing teams while still contributing to the offense.

On the blue line this Penguins team is as solid as it has ever been. The top five defensemen are pretty much set in stone with Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland battling for the number six spot. There is a chance the team will being the first few games of the season without Brooks Orpik but once he returns they will feature him along with Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek, Paul Martin, and Matt Niskanen.

Not much to say about the goalie situation because it remains the same as last year. Marc-Andre Fleury will be the featured starter with Brent Johnson playing the back up role for the third consecutive season. If you ask me, Fleury-Johnson is one of the best and most solid goalie combos in the entire NHL.

This season is about a lot more than a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins, its about proving to everyone that they are one of the best teams in the NHL. Crosby and Malkin will be back. Letang and Fleury could both be finalist for the Norris and Vezina Trophies respectively. This may be the most complete team they have had since Crosby was a rookie, even more complete than the 2009 Cup team. This could be something very special to watch. Look out hockey fans, Pittsburgh is coming.


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