We're not going to lie. We're about as excited as we ever get in January. As long as we're making Top 10 lists about hockey instead of lining up the Top 10 Possible Starting Times For The Next CBA Meeting At An Undisclosed Location or Top 10 Things Rob Rossi Just Made Up About Labor Law On Twitter, things are fairly fantastic. Seriously, you had us at "The Penguins are playing the Flyers and Rangers this weekend in games that should have playoff-level intensity." So let's get right to it. Here are 10 Things No One Else Will Tell You about the 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins.
10. Dan Bylsma has about 12 weeks to Get to His Game.
Let's be real. That 2009 Stanley Cup has Michel Therrien's sofffff, sweaty fingerprints all over it. Since that magical run, Bylsma has been at the wheel for three consecutive playoff disappointments. He's won only a single series over that span. There is nothing quite like watching him do his "Sid, you ready? Good. You're starting" routine, but if we see another early exit in April, Disco's job can't be secure. You don't squander 4 years of this group's prime and come out the other side unscathed. Not a chance.
|Still feeling pretty good about himself.|
9 more things, after the jump...
9. This is the year of Bob Bortuzzo
Or Dylan Reese. Or Simon Despres. Or Brian Strait if he clears waivers. One of these young, unproven defensemen is going to have to make a mark on this team, because in case you haven't noticed, the Penguins have only four guys we could bear to watch come over the boards in the final minutes of a Game 7 without having a stroke. And one of those guys is Paul Martin (more on him later). If Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland are who we thought they were, i.e. serviceable but limited 3rd pairing defensemen, we need a new Piece to complete the picture of a contending team. That's a certainty.
What is it about Dustin Jeffrey's high hockey IQ, his 6'3, 199 pound frame, and his knack for scoring at big moments in NHL games that disqualified him from a tryout on the Malkin-Neal line during Wednesday night's scrimmage? Are we still pushing this Eric Tangradi thing? Really? You'll recall earlier that we asked Dan Bylsma not to overthink these things. Just look at Eric Tangradi. Stop waiting to see what isn't there. You've got a quiet but compelling Dustin Jeffrey standing right in front of you, waiting to blossom.
It's not that we don't think Beau Bennett's hands may one day end up in the Smithsonian, because they might, and we have an idea for a beautiful exhibit.
7. Any hope we had for Kris Letang to mature died the minute he signed with a KHL team 12 hours before the lockout ended.
If Dan Bylsma was the kid with the super-organized trapper keeper and too-big-for-his-wrist digital watch, Kris Letang was the kid who waited until the teacher was looking directly at him, and only then threw a textbook at little Bylsma's head. The thing is, he still IS that kid. His judgment hasn't improved! At all! If not Sergei Gonchar, who we feel a certain nostalgia for but are not convinced is the right fit for this particular incarnation of the Penguins, couldn't we use a veteran nominal No. 1 defenseman just so our actual No. 1 defenseman has the freedom to be insane? Because it's possible Kris Letang is a little bit crazy. For real. What a talent though.
Are we all aware that Penguins' goaltending savior Tomas Vokoun is coming off a severe groin tear? That doesn't sound good. The Internet says such injuries have a pretty high rate of recurrence, and Vokoun is 36-years-old, sooooo. Keep that in mind. The bottom line on the goaltending situation remains the same: our fate is still tied to Marc-Andre Fleury, and our confidence in him has been badly shaken. If he can't deliver a playoff performance worthy of a top 5 goalie this year, with Vokoun providing liberal relief and after only about 30 regular season starts, you have to doubt if he ever will.
5. Either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin will break the record for points in a 48 game season.
The record is 70, and it's held by two men.
|About to be interviewed in Scott Burnside's grandma's basement.|
Yes, technically he is Brent Sutter's son and the nephew of Brian, Darryl, Duane, Ron, and Rich. We're talking about his game. He doesn't look like those other Sutters. Not that they weren't good players, but Brandon is a new model entirely. No one should get carried away by what we saw in an intra-squad preseason scrimmage, but one thing is undeniable: this kid is way better than we thought. The hands. The reach. The stride. The way he planted himself in front of the net. And the moxie. Brandon Sutter came out of Carolina almost fully formed, yet with room to grow. What an acquisition.
|Sutter Brothers - no relation.|
When news broke last summer that Jordan Staal had rejected a 10-year, $60 million offer from the Penguins, one thought went through our minds: We're completely screwed. Either Staal would leave after the final year of his current deal and the Pens would get nothing in return, or Ray Shero would have to sell him for 50 cents on the dollar. Who would pay full price for a guy the Penguins absolutely had to trade?
Next factor in the two young defensemen Pittsburgh got in the deal. Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot gives the Pens two more trade chips, or else their presence will allow Shero to part with other young D in a trade. Directly or indirectly, this team is going to improve at the deadline because of that Staal trade.
2. Paul Martin is going to kill it this season.
We're only sort of kidding. Really, how well does Martin have to play this season for the consensus to be that he exceeded expectations? We're guessing he just has to avoid dropping his pants and taking a dump in the crease, and he's basically there. The so-called shut down D pairing of Martin and Brooks Orpik will be awful if we end up with the Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik of 2011-12. But early indications are maybe, just maybe, the picture will be different this year. Maybe they can keep it simple and we'll see a renewed focus on team defense, because we'll need to send Martin out there for his 25 minutes a night. There's no avoiding it under the circumstances.
|Must Love Dogs and Defensive Zone Lapses.|
1. The Penguins are not the Stanley Cup favorites, so shut up already, Las Vegas.
Odds-makers list the Penguins as 8/1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, which begs the question: were odds-makers on an extended bender that began before Game 1 of last spring's Flyers-Penguins series and caused them to lose all recall of what transpired in said series? Because we have news for you, odds-makers. It wasn't good. All the Penguins have done since then is trade their Norse god/center Jordan Staal and perhaps their best defensive defenseman Zybnek Michalek, let go the guy who quarterbacked their power play (Steve Sullivan), signed a 4th liner to replace another 4th liner, and brought in a 36-year-old goalie recovering from a severe groin tear to back-up the thoroughbred goalie who gave up 30 goals in the aforementioned cataclysmic playoff series.
So, no, "favorites" is not a word we would use to describe this team. Are we trying to manage expectations because we prefer to sneak up on people, even though we secretly believe the Penguins are entitled to the Stanley Cup in the same way a king is entitled to his throne or the Bachelor is entitled to hand out his rose? Yes, of course we are. We've got huge plans for this season, so stick with us. LGP. GTOG.