Penguins 2009-2010: What, Me Worry?

Eric NaughtonCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Chris Conner #23 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot on Mathieu Garon #32 of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second period at Mellon Arena on September 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Penguins return to another preseason after a short summer.  The Pens defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime 5-4, with a typical, training camp squad.

The Penguins were missing some players, most noticeably Evgeni Malkin, and worked several prospects, including draft-pick Simon Despres and Eric Tangradi, acquired from the Ducks last spring with Chris Kunitz.

Many will say that the preseason doesn't mean anything.  If that were true, a team's roster would be set by the first game.

Over the next few weeks leading up to the season opener against the New York Rangers, we will get to see how the Pens are meshing together.  We will see players (and already have) get assigned to Wilkes-Barre, sent back to other clubs, or given their outright release.

Preseason is here to wet our appetites for the regular season and for the coaching staffs to not only decide their roster, but to get a look at how players and prospects will fit in or how they are progressing.

As we gear up for the NHL's 2009-2010 season, I have to say that I am not the least bit worried about anything.  Let me proceed to address some issues that many critics and worry-warts are harping about.

1.  Secondary Scoring

With Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan gone, everyone seems to be worried about the winger positions.

What?  I'm not worried about that at all.

I'm not going to bring up the fact that Sykora fizzled at the end of last season because that has been attributed to a shoulder injury and you can't blame the guy.  He'll have a great time in Minnesota where he was given a chance by former Pens Asst. GM Chuck Fletcher.

Miro showed up off-and-on during the season and was even sent to the minors, though that move was mostly done to clear up cap space heading into the playoffs.  He played in several playoff games and performed well, but because of his overall 2008-2009 performance, he won't be returning.

Another loss will be Max Talbot who will be out for a few months due to offseason shoulder surgery.  I would only worry if Max were going to miss the post-season—that's where he shines.

I'm not worried because the top three lines will be intact when Max returns.  Crosby-Kunitz-Guerin, Malkin-Fedotenko-Talbot, and Staal-Kennedy-Cooke will be supported by a grab bag fourth line made up of players such as Dupuis, Adams, Rupp, Godard and numerous Wilkes-Barre players.

Talbot really started clicking with Malkin and Feds during the SCP and Kunitz and Crosby proved they have chemistry in the game against the Blue Jackets.  These players have also shown (since Bylsma took over) that they can mix and match lines and still produce points.

And we only need to look to the SCF to witness the capable secondary scoring of the Pens.  Talbot: four goals, Staal: two goals (including a huge short-handed tally), Kennedy: two goals, Gonchar and Letang: one goal.

2.  Defense

Goaltender, I mean, shot-blocking defenseman Rob Scuderi and the U.S.S. Hal Gill both departed the team after outstanding Stanley Cup performances.

These two will be replaced (most likely) by Jay McKee, picked up from the St. Louis Blues, and Alex Goligoski, who stepped up big in his rookie year filling the shoes of Ryan Whitney or Sergei Gonchar (depending on who you ask).

Everybody talks about how irreplaceable Scuderi and Gill are.  I was often frustrated with Scuderi being out of position, missing assignments and making simple mistakes (he called to Fleury for the puck which was picked up by Ovechkin for the empty netter in Game Seven against the Caps).  Gill was slow and wasn't as physical as he could (should) have been.

McKee plays a very similar style to Scuderi.  He will need some time to get used to the Penguins' zone defensive play.  I predict that McKee will be a solid, stay-at-home blueliner this season.

Goligoski is a puck-moving, offensive defenseman.  This was witnessed at the intra-squad game in Wilkes-Barre on Thursday - he scored a hat trick for the black squad.  Alex is ready to be a starting defenseman and follows in the footsteps of Kris Letang who also came up from Wilkes-Barre and plays a similar style.

The defensive pairings will now be Gonchar-Orpik, Letang-Eaton and Goligoski-McKee (or perhaps Letang and Goligoski will swap).  This will give the Pens three full lines comprised of an offensive defenseman and a stay-at-home defenseman.  This suits the Pens' system under Dan Bylsma much better.

3.  Goaltending

Mathieu Garon was acquired last year from the Edmonton Oilers in January for Dany Sabourin.  Both players are now with new clubs.  Garon played very well for the BJ's against the Pens the other night and Sabourin is now with the Boston Bruins.

The Pens signed Brent Johnson in the offseason and John Curry is still at Wilkes-Barre.

Okay, who cares?  Fleury is the starter.  Fleury is the man.  People liked Sabourin but he was ousted twice in relief of Fleury - once by Ty Conklin and then by John Curry.  Brent Johnson is a good goalie and will be a capable backup.

If Fleury gets injured, Johnson and Curry will be able to hold the fort.  I'm not worried.

4.  The Stanley Cup Hangover

Didn't the Pens suffer from the hangover in 2008-2009?  They started well (even without Gonch and Whitney) through November.  (Wasn't the Detroit-come-from-behind-losing-by-five-goals-and-winning-in-overtime game sweet?)  They faltered in December and January and then drank a Dan Bylsma Red Bull (no, Red Bull isn't sponsoring me), and went all the way.

Entering training camp, the Penguins' attitude is this, "we are one of 30 teams, trying to win the Stanley Cup."  These guys are here to play and to get the job done.

My guess is that all the champagne these guys had over the summer will act as the hair of the dog.

No worries from me.

5.  Everybody Else

The only thing that worries me is everybody else!  The Pens play in what is arguably the toughest division in the NHL.  The Flyers and the Capitals are definitely gunning for the Penguins.  The Red Wings want another SCF rematch.  Every team in the NHL will be out to beat the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions.

I'm not worried... any more than I usually am.



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