Friday, October 28, 2005

Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes!! Pens Get First Win

In what could have been looked at as hitting rock bottom, the Penguins found themselves without a shot on goal and losing 4-0 to the Atlanta Thrashers with 10:10 remaining in the first period. Coach Ed Olczyk called a timeout, and something happened. The team responded in a way that it hadn't during this season. It was like something switched on in the head of each player. They came out of that time out a different team, one who would not be beaten, at least on this night. A team that had pride and one that would not be pushed around in their own rink anymore. Team captain and owner Mario Lemieux was the first to get it going, scoring two goals in the period to make it 4-2, one of which was a vintage Mario Lemieux power play goal. Lemieux one timed a shot from the left face off circle into the cage like he has done some many times in the past.

This may also go down in history as the night the cosmonaut landed. Sergei Gonchar, lightning rod for a ton of criticism during the losing streak, had his best game as a Penguin. Notching 2 goals and an assist. Throughout many games in the young season, it looked as if he was skating in quicksand, this night he looked to have very strong legs, was firing the puck and looking an awful lot like the player Craig Patrick thought he was getting when he signed him to a $25 million contract this off season. Another free agent signing also had a big night. John LeClair scored two power play goals and did a pretty good impression of the guy who used to bang in 40 markers a season from the front of the net.

Rick Jackman was the other scorer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and logged a ton of ice time at even strength and on the power play due to the loss of Dick Tarnstrom. Tarnstrom was knocked out for the evening and potentially longer, when his skate was caught in the ice as he was hit by an Atlanta player. It is being called a knee injury.

Sidney Crosby extended his lead in the rookie scoring race by picking up two assists in the game. Giving him 12 assists to go with his 2 goals. He was also used extensively on a line with Mario Lemieux for the first time this season. He might just stay there too. Mario talked frequently during the off season about playing with Sid the Kid, only to have Olczyk deny him the chance. Separating the 2 number one picks made sense at first, but as the losing continued, it was a necessary move. Sidney provides speed on a line with lemieux and Mark Recchi and puts himself in position to feed Mario for shots as he is entering the offensive zone late. If last night was any indication, you will see Lemieux and Crosby in many box scores together.

This game my end up just one of many wins this season, but it was by far the most fulfilling in a very long time. The energy in the Mellon Arena from the crowd of 14,009 was amazing. A room that was deflated so early in the game came to life as the penguins showed Pittsburgh and the NHL they could fly. The crowd counted off the final 10 seconds of the game as if it were the Stanley Cup finals. Pittsburgh was hungry for a win and they got it tonight in dramatic fashion. I had mentioned a Bill Cower quote in the past: "Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it." Well, let's hope that is what we have just seen happen.

Game Notes:
It seemed that Ed Olczyk abandoned the plan that called for 2 forwards to "cherry pick" in the neutral zone, waiting for break out passes, as the team employed an extra forward in the defensive zone throughout the evening.

Sebastian Caron got the start and played very well after an ugly 10 minute span in which he allowed 4 goals on 10 shots.

There were scouts from 10 different teams in attendance at Mellon Arena last night.

NHL Notes:
The Nashville Predators took their first loss of the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night. They fell in OT as Columbus D man Adam Foote cashed in on a short handed rush 35 seconds into the extra period.

Todd Bertuzzi made his return to Denver last night. There was really nothing out of the ordinary, unless you count the repeated boos and jeers showered upon the ice each time the rugged winger took the ice in a 6-2 Avalanche victory.

The Edmonton Oilers may have overestimated their goaltenders: Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen. They have not been getting the job done, and neither has stepped up to claim the number one spot. They may be in the market for a goaltender, possibly Ollie Kolzig from the Washington Capitals.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are falling further in the Eastern Conference standings than anyone would have expected. After last night's embarrassing performance against the New Jersey Devils, a 6-3 loss, they are still the only team in the NHL who has yet to get a win. The loss left them in possession of a 0-3-4 record, their worst start in franchise history. This is in stark contrast to a team like the Nashville Predators, who may not have had as much national press or preseason exposure and find themselves sitting at 6-0-0, the best start in their franchise history.

Popular opinion in professional sports would say that the coach is to blame for the teams bad start. Is a coaching change on the horizon for the Penguins? Team captain Mario lemieux says no: "We have a system. Guys have to pay a little bit more attention to our system, making sure we're all on the same page. It comes down to putting in the effort." The team just doesn't seem to be making it in the new NHL. They are not utilizing the open ice that is being created by the rule changes. The skilled offensive players that the team has should be able to create multiple odd man situations and break always, but so far have been getting bottled up in the neutral zone. They are not getting to lose pucks and are playing 10-12 minutes a period in their own zone. It is hard to generate scoring chances when guys are skating backwards more often than not.

The team defense has been key during the losing streak. The blame does not lie solely on the defenseman, but on the entire team. For every great defensive play that they make, there are 5 or 6 horrible ones. There are several defensemen who have been taking some heat, most notably, Sergei Gonchar, which isn't a bad choice. His horrible start has been magnified by the team's lack of success. The fact that he is skating as if he is in quicksand and getting beat by everyone who comes down his lane isn't helping the cause. Neither is his propensity for taking penalties, especially late in games. He is also one of the teams highest paid players and a key off season acquisition. Brooks Orpik has also looked very bad at times. He quite possibly has an assigned seat in the penalty box as well. Brooks has looked out of place on many nights during the young season and needs to adjust to the new NHL quickly or may find himself watching from the press box more often. The forwards have also struggled in the defensive zone. The team as a whole needs to start playing positional hockey, getting back to fundamentals that are taught to children, wingers cover the point men, defensemen and center split the corners and slot area into three zones and cover the opposing forwards. They need to start skating with the opposition, when they cycle, you cycle. Play man to man, zone coverage has not worked and there are always opposing forwards open for uncontested shots, while Penguin forwards end up bunching together and getting trapped.

There is still much speculation that GM Craig Patrick is trying to acquire Brendan Witt from the Washington Capitals. This is not the answer to the struggling Defense. Witt was a big, physical defenseman who just doesn't play that way anymore. He also is not the type of d-man who looks to have much success in the new NHL. Witt is a plodding skater whose ill advised penalties would only compound the current situation.

One saving grace seems to be that there hasn't been a mutiny or any finger pointing in the locker room. Plus, Olczyk seems to have retained the endorsement of Lemieux and Patrick. This team needs to pull together, build the on ice chemistry that seems non-existent right now. Pittsburgh Steeler coach Bill Cower has always said; "Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it." If the Penguins can pull themselves out of this free fall and put together some wins, that is exactly what could happen. All good teams go through rough periods, it is the great ones who can rise above circumstance and achieve their goals. Ed Olczyk is a very positive individual and should be able to infuse that into this team, once that happens, the wins will come.

NHL Notes:
Alexander Ovechkin has taken over in the race for the Calder. It is very early, but he has been a dominant offensive force for the Capitals, scoring big goals frequently. Alexander the great notched the only 2 goals in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers Thursday night.

The Nashville Predators are the surprise of the league. They are 6-0-0 and are doing it was great goaltending, superb defense and a lot of goalscoring. Steve Sullivan has really led the charge along with the newly signed Paul Kariya and D-man Marek Zidlicky.

Manny Legace seems to have put a deathlock on the job that has alluded him for years, starting goaltender for the Detroit Redwings. He has looked very sharp in notching a 6-1-0 record along with a 1.98 gaa, .918 sv% and 1 shut out. Legace was given the opportunity as Chris Osgood was recovering from an injury and is completing a minor league conditioning assignment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rumors and Notes

There is speculation that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are discussing a deal that would send big D-man Brendan Witt to Pittsburgh. There hasn't been a whole lot going around on this, however the Washington play by play team alluded to the talks during a the weekend Caps/Lightning broadcast.

The Penguins have reassigned goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to their AHL affiliate, the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Baby Penguins. The move allowed Jocelyn Thibault to rejoin the active roster after recovering from his knee injury, a bruise caused by a Rico Fata shot 2 weeks ago.

Sidney Crosby has picked up points in each of his first 6 NHL games. Crosby has 2 goals and 7 assists through 10/17 tying him for 5th in the league scoring race.

John LeClair has been moved to the right wing of a line with Mario Lemieux and Ryan Malone. He played a few shifts there on Friday night before joining his new linemates for the entire game Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The big winger picked up his first goal of the season Friday night against his old mates the Philadelphia Flyers. .

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Pens Weekend Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins have two very big tests this weekend starting tonight against the formidable Philadelphia Flyers and new superstar Peter Forsberg. The Flyers have not gotten off to the start that they had hoped for, just like the Penguins, notching a 1-2 record through their first 3 games. Look for young guns: Simone Gagne, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to try and right the ship tonight. They will be backstopped by goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who has outplayed Robert Esche throughout the first week of the season.

Saturday, the Penguins meet the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning, in their second home game of the year. The Lightning have started the season 2-2-1 and still boast a great line-up of young scorers. They include Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St Louis, and Brad Richards. Nik Khabibulin is gone to Chicago and Jon Grahame is looking to take over the number one job.

The Penguins will have to make sure that their defense isn't as poor as it has been, or these two opponents will score many goals against them. Word is that Marc Andre Fleury may play tonight. His performance may decide his fate. He was outstanding Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres.


Most NHL teams would be thrilled to pick up points in 3 consecutive games, especially when 2 of them were on the road. That just isn't the case in Pittsburgh. Where fans and media are asking many questions: What is wrong with the defense? Is Mario playing like a 40 year old? Why aren't the Penguins using Mario and Sidney on the same line? Should the team make a trade or fire Coach Eddie Olczyk? These are the same fans that endured an 18 game losing streak during the '03-'04 season and not one time uttered a single word about trades or firings. Though expectations are high, what needs to be realized is that there are many new players on this team, and there is a period of transition for them. Though it is hard to realize following the tough OT losses and failure to succeed in the first shootout of the season, this team will gel at some point. There is far to much talent not too. Now to address some of the aforementioned questions:

What is wrong with the defense?
Though the Pens defense seems to be the major flaw with the team, it can only get better. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Sergei Gonchar is not playing up to his superstar potential. He has been floating around the ice, unable to control the puck in crucial situations, getting beat by most puck carriers and most importantly: NOT SCORING! This will not continue, Gonchar has a pedigree in this league, and that is one of scoring and being sound defensively. Unfortunately, he is known for the occasion turnover and that could be a problem. The Penguins also have Dick Tarnstrom and Richard Jackman who will chip in more with points than with defensive work. The defensive players on the blue line haven't been up to the challenge. Brooks Orpik has been the poster child for the Penguins defensive woes. His play has been poor and he is taking penalties with much frequency. He has drawn the ire of Coach Edzo as well as team captain, Mario Lemieux. Mario's post game comments after the season opening loss to New Jersey all but called Orpik by name, stating that these players need to learn what is a penalty or they will not be here. Steve Poapst, Rob Scuderi and Josef Melichar just do not have the mobility to be in the new NHL. They could all be spot or role players going forward, but they have been given too much responsibility and are doing nothing with it. The one bright spot was Lyle Odelein's play in Buffalo Monday. He seemed to be steady and also was able to serve as a calming influence on Orpik. The Penguins have help if they want it. Ryan Whitney is one of the leading defensive scorers in the AHL and Noah Welch is ready to step into the big time now! Some roster shuffling is necessary, but bring these kids up.

Is Mario Lemieux playing like a 40 year old?
Mario is still Mario and this new wide open NHL is going to serve him very well. He has been as guilty as the rest of the team of overpassing the puck, especially on the power play. Great players do that when they are playing with other great players because they think they can set up the beautiful tic tac toe play. Well, they will soon realize that shooting the puck is the only way to score goals in this league. Mario, though not as fast as he once was, is still one of the most dangerous players in the league. His on ice vision is still superior to most others. He will get his points, as evidenced by his two goal effort in Boston last Saturday night on home ice. This is the same Mario Lemieux who put up 11 points in 4 preseason games to start the season. As long as he stays healthy, he will be among the leading scorers. Mario isn't one to fail, he never has been. He will begin to score with frequency again.

Why aren't the Penguins using Mario Lemieux on a line with Sidney Crosby?
There are several reasons why they have not done this on a regular basis. First, Crosby is the biggest hockey story in ages. He is has a gigantic amount of pressure on him to perform and to live up to his "Next One" status. If he was on a line with Mario Lemieux and the line wasn't producing, the media would be all over them. Plus, Mario and Sidney are very similar, in that they need the puck to be successful. They are both creators and great passers. If this was the Mario of 7 or 8 years ago, one who was more of a goal scorer, the line would be a great combo, but now it just wouldn't work. The line, like the power play would be accused of overpassing. Sidney may also be compelled to feed the puck to Mario every time he touched it. Having him play with speedy, creative wingers such as Mark Recchi and Ziggy Palffy will better help him achieve his lofty goals. They are also two of the teams most gifted offensive weapons, and the Penguins want to avoid placing "all their eggs in one basket" so to speak. The other teams defense would key on this line and stifle it, even if they had to come out and take a penalty against them each time. These two players should get some power play time together, that is something that could be experimented with, but has only been given a chance for about a minute.

Should the team make a trade or fire Coach Eddie Olczyk?
This team was built by Craig Patrick, who arguably is one of the best at his craft when his hands aren't bound by salary constraints. The players he brought in are mostly game breakers and or great veteran role players. Though some of the players haven't played up to the expectations yet, I find it hard to believe that they will not. These players are all proven NHLers and know what it takes to win. For as bad as the defense has been, this team could easily be 3-1 if a couple of bounces had gone their way. Had that been the case, no one would be asking any of these questions. This team will gel, the scorers will find a way to fill the net, and they will start to win games. There may be moves on the horizon, but that will come much later in the season to plug any glaring holes. As for coach Ed Olczyk, I wasn't thrilled when I heard that the team was hiring their broadcast color man to be the new head coach, but then I heard his press conference. This guy knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup and how to get the most out of his players. Edzo loves the game, and loves mentoring young players. He did a great job with a very young and inexperienced team in 'o3-'04. He, like many of his players, may need a slight transitional period. It is a big difference dealing with fringe NHLers as opposed to millionaires. Having been at training camp, he was still teaching and mentoring, as if he still had a very young group. Eddie Olczyk will lead this team back to the playoffs, and maybe even the back to Stanley Cup glory.

The team has played 4 games and picked up 3 points, which is good. There have been positives such as the play of Sidney Crosby, and Ziggy Palffy's goal scoring. Success will start coming to this team. They will recommit to team defense and the wins will start to come. There are many winners in this group, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Mark Recchi, John LeClair, and Sidney Crosby. Success follows guys like this and it will in Pittsburgh.

League Notes:
Eric Staal has been unbelievable in the first week of the season. After posting 4 points (1g 3a) Wednesday night against Washington, the young forward is among the league leaders with 8 points.

Illya Kovalchuck finally signed with the Atlanta Thrashers : 5 years 32.5 million. This is great news for Atlanta, and adds something special to their already formidable offense!

Alexander Ovechkin has taken the NHL by storm. He has been one of Washington's best players notching 7 points in the first 6 games of the season.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Monday Update

The Pittsburgh Penguins finally had their home opener on Saturday night. It was definitely one I will never forget! Unfortunately it ended in a loss, but it was still a special night. We got a glimpse of the past as well as the very bright future. Mario Lemieux played one of his best games of the season and Sidney Crosby made his home debut showing all of Pittsburgh that the hype is for real! This kid is an assist machine and has great touch around the net. The passes he makes are unbelievable! He seems to see the ice as only a very select few have in the past. Sid seems to have that unnatural ability to know exactly what is going to happen 2 steps ahead. He knows where and who he is going to pass the puck too before he gets it. There is no hesitation, no delayed reaction. He set brooks Orpik up in front of the Boston net with a no look, backhand pass as he was going into the right wing corner with defender on his back. You could almost see the disbelief in Orpik as he buried the puck. Crosby also picked up his first goal of the season, knocking a bouncing rebound behind Boston goaltender Hannu Toivonen. It was exciting to see Sidney, who is mature beyond his years, act like the 18 year old he is as he celebrated his goal. Skating backwards towards the boards and leaping into the glass! A 400 pound gorilla seemed to be taken off his back with that first goal, finally giving the casual fan something to talk about. He has picked up points in every game this season and is well on his way to claiming the Calder trophy.

Mario scored 2 goals and once again looked very strong on his skates. A healthy Mario has got to have the rest of the league worried. Hopefully he can continue to fight off the nagging injuries that have caused him so much grief throughout his career.

It does seem that this team has some kinks that have to be worked out. I think that it is just a matter of getting players on the same page. Any time you have a large group of new players joining a team, there is a period of transition. It occasionally takes time for the lines to gel and for everyone to learn the nuances of each others game. The main line-up of the Penguins had only played together 2 times in the preseason. So judging them after 5 games together is a bit premature.

Goalie Jocelyn Thibault was injured in the morning skate Saturday and has been placed on the IR. He was hit on the side of the knee cap with a Rico Fata shot. The Pens have called up goalie Marc Andre Fleury, who was the best backstop in their camp. MA Fleury will need to turn in a strong performance if he wants to stay on the big club when Thibault returns. He will start Monday evening against the Buffalo Sabres.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pens Weekend Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins hope to bounce back from a disappointing showing in their season opener in two exciting weekend match ups. They face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight and finally come back to Pittsburgh for their home opener against the Boston Bruins Saturday.

The Hurricanes are also trying to bounce back from an opening night loss to the defending champion, Tampa Bay Lightning. They are led by young centerman, Eric Staal, who picked up his first goal of the season on Wednesday night. The Hurricanes are also going to have to make up for the loss of Ray Whitney, who was just placed on injured reserve with a groin problem. The Penguins hope to get their power play on track against rookie goaltender Cam Ward, who came in for mop up duty Wednesday night, after starter Martin Gerber was injured. The flightless bird will be doing all it can to even their record up at 1-1, so as not to add additional pressure to the Saturday night home opener.

The Boston Bruins come into Pittsburgh Saturday night, having lost a heart breaker to Montreal on Wednesday. They had trouble beating goaltender Jose Theodore all night, and gave up the winning power play goal to Michael Ryder with :12 seconds remaining in regulation time. They are hoping that captain Joe Thornton, young gun Patrice Bergeron and goaltender Andrew Raycroft can turn their fortunes, and spoil Sidney Crosby's home debut!

The Penguins will have to cash in on their early chances in these games, something they were not able to do against the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur on Wednesday night. Getting an early lead will do wonders for a team that began to press a little too hard as their game went on. They were overpassing the puck and looking for the "perfect shot" because they were unable to beat a very hot goaltender. Having a third or fourth liner score would also offer a great pick me up to a couple of the teams superstars that were held off the score sheet on opening night.

First Night In the Books!!!

Night one of the new NHL kicked off with a bang. At times it was unpredictable, while some other things stayed exactly the same! Such as the Pittsburgh Penguins losing to division rival New Jersey. Though the Pens lost, this was a great example of how the NHL has changed. There were a total of 72 shots on goal, and most of them were good scoring chances. I am not sure if there were 72 shots on goal in the Continental Arena during the '03-'04 season, let alone in one game.

Marty Brodeur stole the show, looking every bit as good as we all knew he was. I don't know if one game is enough to convince the hockey world that his success wasn't just the result of a great defensive system, but I am a believer! He was a shining example of what smaller goal equipment can do for a great backstop. Marty looked even quicker than he usually does, making spectacular save after save. He was very mobile in the net and seemed to be more flexible. He took the Penguins power play out of the game from the start of the first period, one in which they had 4 chances during the first 9 minutes of play.

Sidney Crosby made his much hyped debut, and didn't look out of place. He managed a scoring chance during his first shift, sliding to the front of the net with a nice move and taking a backhand shot but was unable to beat Martin Brodeur. Sidney seemed to find a groove as the game went on, and began to create chances for his linemates, John LeClair and Mark Recchi. Crosby picked up the first point of his young career by picking up a lose puck in the right wing corner and feeding Recchi in front of the net for a power play goal midway through the third period, ruining Brodeur's bid for a shut out.

All in all the game was very entertaining, there were plenty of scoring chances for both sides. The referees seem to making all the calls that they should, and most importantly, they are calling it both ways. There are no favorites, and they are letting the skill players move freely, create chances and generate numerous opportunities. If this is any indication of what we are in store for this year, put your seat belts on, because it is going to be a fun ride. Welcome back NHL, we have definitely missed you and are thrilled with the changes you have made!

Hockey is Officially Back!

The anticipation is building. The moment all hockey fans have waited for is hours away, the puck drops on myNHL tonight. The blood, sweat and tears of the last 17 months are about to be validated. Trevor and Shanny will be squaring off against Coyotes and Blues, instead of Owners and Lawyers. Mario and Wayne will be kicking off new eras, both mentoring, but in slightly different ways. JR will be taking shots on goal, not at union heads or media members. We bid farewell to many familiar faces, thank you Mark, Al, and Ronnie! Tonight will be a special day, all 30 teams will face-off, bringing the new and improved NHL to the forefront in what certainly is shaping up to be a "Great Day For Hockey!"

The game that we all love will be back tonight, and everything about it will be better. I can hardly wait to hear the skates cutting the ice, the puck clanging off the post, the sound of a lightning quick glove save, an open teammate calling for a pass or celebrating that first goal wildly.

Tonight will also provide many new faces and storylines. The debut of Sidney Crosby, could it be another, first shift, first shot, first goal? A first round stud finally plays his first game as a Flyer, Peter Forsberg comes back to the city of brotherly love, can he bring Stanley with him? Todd Bertuzzi once again laces them up with buddies Marcus and Brendan, can he make the hockey world forget? Can Alexander the great give the people in Washington a reason to cheer again.

Tonight will definitely give us all a chance to remember what makes hockey the greatest game on earth with the greatest fans. Our loyalty to our heroes and teams will be rewarded with end to end rushes, breathtaking saves, big goals, pretty passes. Ladies and gentlemen, stand up and be counted, our game is back. This is the dawning of our new Ice Age........this will truly be myNHL.

Don't Panic Yet

Though the Pittsburgh Penguins have not fared as well in the preseason as we all may have liked, they will be just fine. The last time I checked, preseason outcomes have had nothing to do with who gets crowned the Stanley Cup Champion. They have spent the pre-season experimenting with new line combos, getting players acclimated to one another and trying to build the comfort level of Sidney Crosby. Here are 5 reasons that the team will be fine:

  1. The Power Play - The Penguins have endless possibilities and will put one of the best power plays in the league on the ice each night. This will be a great asset, especially early in the year, considering the learning curve with the new rule enforcement. They have what can be considered one of the best power play quarterbacks in the league: Sergei Gonchar. Though he has been more of a shooter in past seasons, he has looked very comfortable carrying the puck up ice and setting up in the attacking zone. He also has more weapons to compliment him than he has ever had. A healthy Mario Lemieux working the left wing boards, Mark Recchi on the Right side, John LeClair or Ryan Malone in the middle tipping shots and screening goaltenders. He will also have a creative D-man opposite him on the other point, be it Dick Tarnstrom, who was something of a power play specialist last year, or Ric Jackman, who has a huge blast from the point.
  2. Sidney Crosby - This kid is the real deal. It may take him a little while to get comfortable in the NHL, but he has still been very impressive. Showing great vision on the ice, setting up line-mates John LeClair and Mark Recchi for many scoring chances, and acquitting himself very well in many different situations. The only knock on Sidney has been his reluctance to shoot the puck, which should work itself out in the coming weeks. Having Sidney in the line-up gives the Penguins two lines that could be considered # 1 on many of the leagues teams. I am penciling him in for 25 goals, 45 assists. Anything above this would be a bonus!
  3. Youth and Speed - Many feel that the Penguins got too old too quickly, and went on a veteran binge when free agency started. This is simply not true. They were able to acquire some veterans who are in or entering the prime of their careers, aside from John LeClair and Mark Recchi, who will be great compliments to the Penguins youth of 17 months ago. They have players like Konstantin Koltsov, who is a superb skater and seems to have developed some additional puck skills. Ryan Malone is one of the up and comers in the league, and will be guided along the path to becoming a power forward in the league by John LeClair. He has been pulling center duty with Mario Lemieux and Ziggy Palffy and hasn't looked out of place. Maxime Talbot has earned a job in a checking role, and has shown some scoring touch. Rico Fata has been flying around the ice, and is still an excellent skater. Matt Murley who made the team out of camp in '03-'04 only to be sent back down after 4 games, has seemingly made the team as well. These young players will be able to learn from the veterans and fill specific roles until they are ready to step up. The new "wide open" NHL will serve the pens youth well.
  4. Goaltending - The Penguins have arguably one of the best goaltending prospects to come along in years, Marc Andre Fleury. He is the latest butterfly style goaltender to come out of the Q, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, following in the footsteps of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, and Felix Potvin. Marc Andre has been excellent in Penguins camp this season, and has given the team the tough choice of keeping him on the team or letting him have an additional season in Wilkes Barrie Scranton. The team also traded a third round pick for Jocelyn Thibault who posted decent numbers on some bad Chicago Blackhawk teams over the past 4 to 5 years. He has picked up the only win for the team this preseason. Thibault, who should play the bulk of the games this year, will do just fine backstopping a high scoring Penguin team until Marc Andre Fleury is ready to take over between the pipes. The Penguins have some additional depth in net as well, Sebastian Caron has shown signs of being a regular in the NHL, and Andy Chiodo is still available to step in at anytime. He was between the pipes in Phoenix when the Penguins broke out of their 18 game losing streak last season.
  5. Mario Lemieux - What can be said about Mario that hasn't already been said. When healthy, he is still one of the most creative and dangerous players in the league. Mario can beat you with a perfect pass, shot or deflection. He was hindered a bit in the last season by lesser line-mates and a nagging hip injury, but that all seems to be behind him now. He has come into camp in great shape and is playing with very skilled line-mates. He will also pull occasional shifts with Sidney Crosby, and benefit from the power play mentioned above. If he remains healthy, and that is a big if, he should have no trouble finishing in the top 10 scorers in the league.

The bottom line is that preseason wins are nice, but a team needs to utilize that time to look at all their options. The preseason is time for evaluation, line and team building. Once October 5th comes, and it is truly Game On, then we can worry about wins and losses. Until then, enjoy the preseason for what it is, a chance to see the future and get ready for the new and improved NHL!