With the start of the regular season only hours away, we look at the last team in our season preview series: the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last Season: 48-26-8 (104 points). 2nd in the Metropolitan Division. Won Stanley Cup.
Key Newcomers: G Mike Condon (waivers, Montreal)
Players To Watch: Sidney Crosby. The unequivocal best player in the NHL right now is sidelined indefinitely with another concussion. Crosby sustained his latest concussion during training camp on the Friday before the seasons starts. The concussion derails what was set to be a promising start to the season after Crosby returned from the World Cup of Hockey a champion and MVP. He led the tournament in scoring by potting 3G and 7A. And while concussions are now taken more seriously, Crosby’s history with head injuries only intensifies the potential harm for the Penguins Captain. He missed a significant chuck of 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons with concussions and neck issues stemming from hits to the head, and another similar injury is cause for concern.
If Crosby comes back healthy and with no lingering effects, then the Pens are expected to challenge for the Cup once again. The team made no major moves this off-season, and avoided the almost inevitable cap-shedding summers that plagued the Chicago Blackhawks over the past six years.
Key Storyline: Goaltending. Who will step up and take the reins this season? Most hockey pundits assumed that Marc-Andre Fleury would be traded and Matt Murray would assume the starting role. Fleury lost his starting position to Murray after the rookie’s excellent playoff performance. The Pens attempted to insert Fleury back into the lineup during the playoffs but the team faltered and Coach Mike Sullivan went back to Murray.
The other reason many thought that Fleury would be traded was that if he remained on the roster past June, his newly activated NMC would force the Penguins to protect him and expose Murray in the expansion draft. Obviously Pittsburgh would like to keep Murray over Fleury as the former is arguably better, younger, and cost-controlled. That leaves Fleury as the odd man out in this situation, and the Pens could move him during the season if the price is right. Regardless of when they move him, the tension surrounding the situation could have an adverse effect on team morale. The Penguins have a bit of time to contemplate platooning both goalies, however, as Murray broke his hand during the World Cup of Hockey and will miss a few weeks as he recovers.