A look inside the 2013 Penguins

Position-by-position breakdown


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The Penguins will play a game that matters for the first time in nearly nine months when they visit Philadelphia Saturday afternoon.

That doesn't mean it -- or any of the 47 that will follow in this lockout-shortened season -- necessarily will matter that much.

The Penguins and Flyers can be counted on to go at each other like wolverines with earaches, as they usually do, but the only thing the Penguins must accomplish between now and the end of April is to earn a playoff spot as one of the top eight clubs in the Eastern Conference.

It's of no lasting consequence if they perform to their potential and win the Atlantic Division, or even the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team.

Rampage through the next 48 games but lose early in the playoffs -- a Penguins habit of late -- and the season will be an abject failure. They have been knocked out of the postseason by lower-seeded teams for three consecutive springs, the past two in the opening round.

And, while there have been some extenuating circumstances along the way like major injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in 2011, Stanley Cups are awarded to the team with 16 playoff victories, not the most compelling excuses.

The window of opportunity for this franchise to contend seriously should remain open for a while, especially if Malkin doesn't decide to work elsewhere after his contract expires in 2014, but there is a finite number of championship shots for any team, and the Penguins have used at least five of theirs.

So, while it all starts Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center for the Penguins, what truly counts for them will be when -- and especially, how -- it ends.

They finalized their 23-man roster Thursday by returning forwards Beau Bennett and Jayson Megna to their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre and waiving defensemen Brian Strait. He will join the Baby Penguins if he clears waivers at noon today.

A look at who's left:

Centers

The Penguins have had the best collection of centers in the NHL for a number of years.

Trading Jordan Staal in the offseason didn't necessarily change that.

Brandon Sutter isn't Staal's equal -- there's a reason Carolina included the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft and defenseman Brian Dumoulin in its offer for Staal -- but his game is perfectly tailored to filling the void Staal's departure created on the third line.

And, with Crosby and Malkin atop the depth chart, the centers still would rank among the finest in the game, even if Sutter and Joe Vitale were replaced by an Irish Setter and a geranium.

No. -- Player -- Height -- Weight -- Skinny

87 -- Sidney Crosby -- 5-11 -- 200 -- Healthy and motivated. That means he's scary, too.

71 -- Evgeni Malkin -- 6-3 -- 212 -- Coming off year in which he was a force of nature.

16 -- Brandon Sutter -- 6-3 -- 190 -- Solid, responsible two-way game ideal for No. 3 line.

46 -- Joe Vitale --6-0 -- 205 -- Reliable, capable guy in middle of fourth line.

Wingers

Perhaps the biggest questions facing the Penguins before training camp concerned who would end up on the left side with Malkin and James Neal and how effective would he be in that role.

Coach Dan Bylsma has said a number of players will rotate into that spot, depending on specific game situations, but Eric Tangradi appears to be at the front of the line.

For Tangradi, the audition with Malkin and Neal is the kind of opportunity he never has gotten at this level and could provide the impetus to establish himself as an impact player. Or, if he fizzles, it could nudge him down the organizational depth chart and even call his long-term future into doubt.

No. -- Player -- Height -- Weight -- Skinny

27 -- Craig Adams -- 6-0 -- 197 -- Handles all the dirty work and does it pretty well.

24 -- Matt Cooke -- 5-11 -- 205 -- Exorcising cheap shots from his game elevated his overall play.

9 -- Pascal Dupuis -- 6-1 -- 200 -- Rarely gets enough credit for all that he contributes.

10 -- Tanner Glass -- 6-1 -- 210 -- Can be counted on to finish season with far more hits than points.

15 -- Dustin Jeffrey -- 6-1 -- 200 -- Versatility, ability to move up and down lineup enhance value.

14 -- Chris Kunitz -- 6-0 -- 193 -- Scored 26 goals in 2011-12. Seemed like he had that many disallowed.

48 -- Tyler Kennedy -- 5-11 -- 190 -- Never one of the guys accused of failing to shoot enough.

18 -- James Neal -- 6-2 -- 215 -- Could repeat, or exceed, goal-every-other-game pace.

25 -- Eric Tangradi -- 6-4 -- 225 -- Could lock up top-six spot if he uses big body effectively.

Defensemen

The Penguins talent pipeline is clogged with outstanding prospects on defense -- from Derrick Pouliot to Scott Harrington, Joe Morrow to Olli Maatta -- but they had to go outside the organization last summer when they wanted to get a top-shelf partner for Kris Letang.

They were one of many teams to aggressively pursue Ryan Suter ... and one of many he rejected in favor of Minnesota.

Couple that with the trade that sent Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix, and the defense actually looks less imposing on paper than it did in 2011-12.

There's no shortage of NHL-caliber defensemen, however, and, if Simon Despres responds to the opportunity he apparently will get, the blue line should not be an issue. Not now or, with the talent that's on the way, for many years into the future.

No. -- Player -- Height -- Weight -- Skinny

41 -- Robert Bortuzzo -- 6-4 -- 215 -- Will be a good shutdown guy in this league for a lot of years.

47 -- Simon Despres -- 6-4 -- 215 -- Could get chance to prove he's ready for top-four workload in NHL.

5 -- Deryk Engelland -- 6-2 -- 215 -- Toughness is underrated asset on a defense corps that could use more.

58 -- Kris Letang -- 6-0 -- 200 -- Can he get back into Norris Trophy conversations and stay there?

6 -- Ben Lovejoy -- 6-2 -- 210 -- Would be a valuable third-pairing or depth guy on any club.

7 -- Paul Martin -- 6-1 -- 200 -- It's time for Paul Martin to finally be Paul Martin.

2 -- Matt Niskanen -- 6-0 -- 205 -- Set the bar high in 2011-12, but look for him to clear it this year.

44 -- Brooks Orpik -- 6-2 -- 218 -- Still effective despite toll taken by years of physical play.

Goalies

For several years, Marc-Andre Fleury's critics -- and there are many -- insisted the Penguins could never win a Stanley Cup with him in goal.

Their championship run in 2009, punctuated by Fleury denying Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom as time ran out in Game 7, effectively ended that discussion, but Fleury has been unable to save the Penguins from early elimination for three years in a row.

Those failures don't all fall on him, although he hardly is immune to criticism, but he'll face some intense scrutiny when the playoffs arrive.

Happily for Fleury, Tomas Vokoun gives him a quality partner who can take on a significant share of his workload, if not some of the pressure on him.

No. -- Player -- Height -- Weight -- Skinny

29 -- Marc-Andre Fleury -- 6-2 -- 185 -- Like his team, his success will be determined in playoffs.

92 -- Tomas Vokoun -- 6-1 -- 210 -- Poised to prod Fleury without actually threatening him.

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First Published January 18, 2013 5:00 AM


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