Features: Five Questions the Pittsburgh Penguins Must Answer to Raise Another Cup
1. Can Bill Guerin keep up his post-trade play of 2009 through an entire 82-game season?
After Ray Shero saved Guerin from "hockey purgatory" on Long Island, the veteran winger notched 10 points in his first eight games in Vegas Gold. But once that initial rush of playing with Sid wore off, his production seemed to tail. In the final 33 games (including 24 in the playoffs), Guerin rung up just 17 points, despite never leaving the top line and seeing significant time on the first power play unit. And as much as he probably doesn’t want to be reminded about, he does turn 39 in November.
2. Can they replace the "shutdown" defensive pair of Rob Scuderi/Hal Gill?
Brooks Orpik’s hits may have rattled many a Plexiglas pane over the last four seasons, but it was Rob Scuderi’s "silent but deadly" approach that helped keep things clear in front of Marc-Andre Fleury. And while Hal Gill didn’t win many races to loose pucks, his presence (and Go-Go-Gadget poke check) will also be missed. The off-season signing of the "defenseman’s defenseman," Jay McKee, should help ease those losses, but they do seem to have more offensive-minded blue liners than last year.
3. Will they receive help from "new blood" like Dustin Jeffrey, Luca Caputi, Tim Wallace?
The core of their Stanley Cup-winning roster returns intact, but over the course of 82 games the Pens are sure to have several key players watching games in street clothes from the press box. And remember – they traded away two first-round draft picks to Atlanta in the Marian Hossa deal in ’08, so their top-level minor-league depth could be depleted. The aforementioned forwards (Jeffrey, Caputi, Wallace) all saw time with the "big club" last year and might be counted on to actually contribute this season. One name to remember from their minor-league ranks: defenseman Ben Lovejoy.
4. How will they be affected by Max Talbot’s early-season absence?
It’s too early to tell how many games Mad Max will actually miss, but it would seem to make sense NOT to rush him back for games in October and November when the team is virtually a lock to make the playoffs regardless. One year ago, Talbot’s absence would have simply deprived the team of a fourth-line center. But after his apparent chemistry with Evgeni Malkin blossomed during their Cup run, the Pens are now left with a gaping hole on their second line as the season begins.
5. Can they play with a target on their back?
The last time the Penguins defended a Stanley Cup championship in 1992-93, they did so with a roster that many still believe was the most talented in team history. They captured the President’s Trophy that season, winning more regular season games than any team in the NHL. But one David Volek overtime goal in their second playoff series ended their visions of a three-peat. The 2008-09 playoff run was one for the ages…can they find that magic two years in a row? It says here there is a good chance.
Craig McConnell is a born-and-bred Pittsburgher. He is a coordinating producer at FSN, where he’s worked since 2001. Before joining FSN, Craig worked as a videographer at WSYX-TV in Columbus and WTOV-TV in Steubenville. He lives in Hampton with his wife, Jill, and their two kids, Derek and Leah.