It's been a couple months now since the Stanley Cup was paraded around the Mellon Arena in the hands of the opponent. While the sting has subsided, the memory of that painful sight has not and you can bet it hasn't been forgotten by the likes of Sidney Crosby and Co.
Due to prior engagements, I will not be able to see much more than the puck drop on Saturday afternoon. A new season has brought the dawn for the day of another Cup run and I shall be in a car missing the sun rise. Rest assured, I will be listening to the game on the radio though not really knowing what to expect.
The Pens open up in Sweden this year with two games against the Senators, who are quickly becoming a hated rival. While the general consensus seems to have the Pens coming out of the Eastern Conference once again, the skeptic in me is waiting to see how all the new faces in town will mesh with the strong core we already have.
Speaking of new faces, let's pause to look at those new to Pittsburgh and those who left town this offseason.
Additions Ruslan Fedotenko, Miroslav Satan, Matt Cooke, Eric Godard
Subtractions Jarkko Ruutu, Georges Laraque, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Ty Conklin, Marian Hossa, Adam Hall
Injuries Ryan Whitney, Sergei Gonchar
Yep, we're already starting the injury bug thread before the season even starts. Whitney had offseason foot surgery and will be out until at least December. Gonchar suffered a shoulder injury in their preseason opener. The injury will require surgery and he will also be out until December at the earliest.
For those keeping track, on some nights that's our top defensive pair. So who could step up to fill in on the top pairing with what will most likely be Brooks Orpik?
My guess at this point would be Kris Letang. Mark Eaton is also back after another season ending injury early last season and is one of the best shot blockers in the league.
Hal Gill is also back, so that will help out a bottom tier penalty kill from last season. Despite his slowness, he's a big body that can clear the crease.
This almost ensures that Alex Gologoski will make the starting roster. Goligoski had 38 points for AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre Scranton last season and has two assists in three career NHL games.
While losing Whitney and Gonchar is a massive blow right now, if the team can stay afloat until they return, we'll be just fine.
Up front the Pens were able to give Evgeni Malkin an extension and bring in the likes of Fedotenko and Satan. With the departure of Malone and "Judas" Hossa, (expect from this point on for me to refer to Hossa as Judas. Big thanks to Jordan for coming up with this.) that frees up two spots on the top two lines.
I would put Satan with Crosby and Dupuis and have Fedotenko play with Malkin and Sykora.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Satan was a great pickup. The guy had 40+ points on an Islanders team that couldn't find the back of the net even if it meant being relegated to the Japanese premier league. (If someone knows if this league exists or not, let me know and I'll send a formal invitation on NHL letterhead asking them to replace a bottom 5 NHL team of their choice. Can't get any worse can it?)
I would expect Satan to get somewhere in the ballpark of 70 points this season. How sure am I of this? Sure enough to take him in my fantasy draft and make him an everyday starter. Of course having Crosby on my team makes this decision even easier, but the fact remains that he's on the team.
You can also expect 40-50 points out of Fedotenko. I'm fully convinced that even I could get this point total if I was on a line with either Crosby or Malkin. Those two guys make everyone around them better.
The farm was a big reason why the Penguins won the Atlantic Division last season and we will have to rely on them to step up once again this season at least to start out. If we can avoid the injury bug for the most part and not lose anyone for a significant amount of time in addition to Whitney and Gonchar, this team has a very good chance to repeat as division champions.
Take a look around the conference and try and come up with a more potent offense than what the Penguins have. While the likes of Montreal and the Rangers both got better, I still think the Penguins have the team to beat. What I don't like is all the hype and predictions from every hockey site I've seen saying that these guys will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals again this season.
I was utterly shocked to see that happen last season and would be surprised again to see that happen just based on how hard it is to assemble a dominant team from year to year now with the salary cap. I think we have the pieces to make another run at the Cup and if we stay healthy we are the odds on favorite to get there.
Maybe this time around things will be different.