[SPORTS] 2010-2011 NHL Season Preview

DJ on ICE: Hockey coverage with DJ SullivanThe Pittsburgh Penguins will win The Stanley Cup.

To win The Cup you first must make the playoffs.  I am certain Pittsburgh is good enough to make The Playoffs.  To win The Cup you must have good goaltending.  Notice I did not say stellar or excellent goaltending.  Recent Cup winning goalies include Chris Osgood, Antti Niemi, J.S. Giguere, Cam Ward, and The Penguins own Marc-Andre Fleury; Hardly a Hall of Fame list of goalies.  Next you need a solid defense.  The Penguins have that.  With the addition of Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek, the sting of losing Sergei Gonchar, Jordan Leopold, Mark Eaton, and Jay McKee will be merely a matter of chemistry rather than dearth of skill.  Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang return to round out a solid Defensive core.

To win The Cup your team needs playoff experience.  The Penguins won The Cup two years ago.  Three years ago they made it to the Finals and last year they made it to the Semi’s.  This team has playoff experience in spades.

The Penguins have an ownership that is willing to go that extra mile at trade-deadline time.  They’ve made several recent deals including one for Marian Hossa that helped them to the finals in ’08.  While other teams whine about money, The Penguins make trades and sign players to better their team.

To win in the playoffs you need an effective Power Play.  In the playoffs when defense tightens up and goals become tougher to come by, games are won and lost on the man advantage.  The Penguins will miss Sergei Gonchar on the power play.  He was good for a dozen goals a season and at age 36 showed no signs of slowing from that.  Still, The Penguins decided to get younger on D, letting the veteran Gonchar walk away.  25 year old Alex Goligoski will be charged with replacing Gonchar on the PP, a task that he struggled at last year.  The Penguins still have plenty of offensive talent to construct a dynamite Power Play unit.  Simply put, I’m just not worried about the Penguins Power Play being an issue.

How are the Penguins going to beat The Capitals? The Caps are an incredible offensively talented team.  However, they’ve proven nothing in the playoffs.  The Caps have questions at defensive depth and a 34 year old goalie, Jose Theodore.  The Caps may look similar to the Penguins on paper, but they seem to always stumble come playoff time, including a 7 game series loss to Pittsburgh in 2009.

Philadelphia: The Flyers goaltending cost them The Cup this past year and they’ve done nothing to fix it.  They won’t be back in the finals unless they find a better goalie.

New Jersey: I am interested in seeing how a full season of Kovalchuk will help The Devils.  But the regular season has never been the issue for the Red Devils.  They’ll be in the playoffs with or without Kovi.  The issue with them is the playoffs; Kovalchuk wasn’t enough to get them through round one last year and I don’t see things being any different this year.

How are the Penguins going to beat the Western Conference representative? It’d be real interesting if The San Jose Sharks actually made it to the Cup Finals.  But like The Caps, The Sharks seem to be built for the regular season.  No need for The Pens to worry about the Sharks until the Bay Area hockey team proves they can make it deep into the playoffs.  Detroit has to answer its goaltending issue.  I know Jimmy Howard was a Calder candidate, but from what I saw, he wasn’t ready for the playoff stage last year.  Vancouver is a complete team, but they also never seem to make it over the hump.  If Vancouver does make it over that hump they would be a threat to The Pens.  TSN.ca has the Canucks ranked #2 in their pre-season rankings.  Chicago has lost many players from last year’s Cup winning team.  They’ve kept the core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith, but they’ve just lost too many pieces, including cup winning goalie Antti Niemi, for me to put them ahead of a Pittsburgh team that remains highly intact.  At this point all of the top Western Conference teams look to have a fatal flaw that will prevent them from beating The Penguins in a 7 game series.

The final piece of the puzzle that will bring The Cup back to Western PA is the offense.  Tough RW Arron Asham was signed to a 1 year deal from Philly, increasing team toughness and adding the occasional tally.  Jordan Staal is a huge Center for The Pens.  He’s 6’4”, 220 scores 20 goals a year and is only 22 years old.  Staal is nursing a nagging tendon injury and will not return until mid-season.  To replace Staal the Pens went out and signed gritty forward, Mike Comrie.  Comrie is certainly capable of playing 2nd line until Staal returns.  Top line complimentary players Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis return to surround Sid The Kid for another season.  Matt Cooke, Mike Rupp, and Maxime Talbot return to round out the bottom lines for The Pens.

Gone is 40 year old Bill Guerin.  Guerin scored 21 goals last year and provided valuable leadership to a young squad.  I think he’ll be missed both for his output and locker room presence, but not enough to get in the way of Sidney Crosby’s second Stanley Cup.  Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky also left the Pens, leaving more questions to be answered as far as depth at wing.

And now we’ve saved the best for last.  Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their worst days are both top 10 NHL players.   Most teams would be delighted to have just one of these players on their roster, but somehow The Pens franchise struck gold twice.  Sidney Crosby may be the best hockey player in the NHL.  That’s a debate for another day.  He can score (51 goals in ’09-’10), He can assist (84 assists in ’06-’07), and he can lead.  Sid was named Captain of The Pens at age 19.  They don’t just make you Captain because you can score goals; it takes real leadership skills.  Sid The Kid is hated around the league by fans of 29 teams.  He has a reputation as a whiner and early on in his career was accused of diving.  The truth is that fans hate him because he’s good.  He’s as close as you’ll come to the complete hockey player.  And if you want to question his toughness, let’s go back to ’06-’07 when he played 6 weeks of hockey with a broken foot and still won the league’s scoring title.  Sid The Kid is 23 years old and he’ll be putting pucks in your team’s net this season.

Evgeni Malkin has won The Art Ross Trophy (League’s leading scorer) and The Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP).  If Sidney Crosby wasn’t there he’d be the undisputed King of the team.  The two players trade off on standing in each other’s shadows.  Malkin puts up similar point totals as Crosby and as evidenced by his Conn Smythe trophy, can turn it on in the playoffs.  In my opinion, Crosby is just more marketable.  He speaks English and is from Canada, the country with the most rabid hockey fan base.  The duo of #87 and #71 do not often work together on the ice as they are both natural Centers.  The way they complement each other is by being on separate lines.  Opposing teams have to choose which of these mega stars they want to use their top defensive pairing against.  Malkin & Crosby are both murder for the average 2nd Defensive pairing, which makes separating them the best way to go.

It takes much more than two superstars to win The Stanley Cup.  Just ask The Tampa Bay Lightning.  They actually have three stars (Lecavalier, Stamkos & St. Louis), but since ’03-’04 have been without a supporting cast and have fallen to the doldrums of the NHL.  To win The Cup it takes a complete team including Superstars, defense, goaltending, power-play, toughness, leadership and ownership.  The Penguins may not be superlative in any of these categories but they’re the most complete team as we stand here ready to drop the puck on the 2010-11 NHL season.

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