Found January 18, 2013 on Steel City Sports Report:
The lockout is over and training camps have concluded.  It's time to get back to playing games. The Penguins enter this season as one of the Stanley Cup favorites for the fifth year in a row.  Their first year as contenders, the Penguins lost to the Red Wings, followed by a Stanley Cup win in Detroit in 2009.  The last three seasons have been utter disappointments, two of which were excused due to injuries and a possible Stanley Cup "hangover."Last season, no excuses.  Just embarrassment.Now the Penguins are back with a completely healthy roster to start the season for the first time since 2010.  Everyone knows Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will race for a scoring title.  Everyone expects 20-25 goals from James Neal, solid production out of forwards Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis, and strong third line play from Brandon Sutter.  Offensively, the Penguins will be completely fine.The problem lies on the backend.  See, the Penguins are Stanley Cup favorites but only on a "what if" basis.  If Kris Letang can stay healthy and become more consistent the Penguins can win.  If Brooks Orpik throws his weight around and provides a physical presence, the Penguins can win.  If Paul Martin can simplify his game and play better in his own end, the Penguins can win.  And if Marc-Andre Fleury can step his game up in the playoffs, the Penguins can win.Just as they did in 2009.To return to the mountaintop, the Penguins will have to get through the playoffs and before that, they have to make the playoffs.  While they should have no problem reaching one of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference, their schedule does them no favors; especially at the start.The Penguins will play eight of their first twelve games on the road.  That's a quarter of the lockout-shortened season.  Among those games, the Penguins will play at Philadelphia, at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers (twice), and twice against the Washington Capitals. To counterbalance the rough start, the Penguins will have a twelve game stretch in March, of which ten will be at Consol Energy Center.  The home stretch comes just in time for the trade deadline, moved to April 3rd because of the lockout. By that point, Ray Shero will be on the phone, looking to find a defensive upgrade or scoring winger.  The Penguins have cap room to spare and a plethora of defensive prospects.  Shero has made some shrewd deals, acquiring players like Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.  He swapped Alex Goligoski for a 40 goal scorer and a solid defenseman in Matt Niskanen.  He will undoubtedly find a way to make this team better on the eve of a playoff run. This team was built for a Stanley Cup run and the Pittsburgh faithful expects nothing less than a fourth ring.  We all thought the team went through a major change when Jordan Staal was dealt during the draft, imagine what will happen if they produce another early exit.  Jobs are on the line this season. By 3pm on Saturday, the Penguins' season will be underway.  Their first step towards reclaiming Stanley Cup glory will come against the same team that ended their dream eight months ago.  The roster is set, the bags are packed, the NHL front office has issued its apologies to the fans, and its time to play.
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