On the Penguins: Who can contend for the hardware?
October 6, 2013 8:00 AM
Marc-Andre Fleury was back in goal for the Penguins on opening night Thursday and gave thefans at Consol Energy Center reason to cheer. He shut out New Jersey, 3-0, for his 24th career shutout.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This game, at its heart, is really all about just one trophy.
Stands nearly three feet tall, weighs 341/2 pounds. Has a bit of a glow to it.
Over the decades, it has held everything from champagne to dog food, along with the dreams of countless players and fans.
Heck, it single-handedly has made the name Stanley cool.
But the Stanley Cup is not the NHL's only piece of hardware, as evidenced by the bounty of Art Ross trophies -- 14, at last count -- the Penguins have collected since the late 1980s.
Some individual awards, like the Calder and the Vezina, are infused with the game's heritage; others, such as the Mark Messier Leadership Award, haven't been around long enough to collect more than a thin layer of dust while resting on their recipients' mantels.
Here's a look at trophies for which Penguins players are expected to contend in 2013-14.
Hart (League MVP)
Candidates: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin.
What it will take: Expectations, as usual, are high for the Penguins, and if the team lives up to them, voters are likely to recognize the contributions of Crosby and/or Malkin, assuming they play a major role in the group's success.
Why it might not happen: There are lots of terrific talents in the league, including Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago, and if a high-profile player -- say, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos -- carries his club to a better-than-anticipated season, he would be a worthy contender for the Hart.
Early-season favorite: Crosby.
Art Ross (Scoring champion)
Candidates: Crosby, Malkin.
What it will take: For Crosby, output like he had before a broken jaw forced him to miss the final quarter of last season probably would suffice. For Malkin, matching -- or exceeding -- the kind of production he generated en route to two previous Rosses could do it.
Why it might not happen: Crosby has proven capable of doing just about everything in recent seasons -- except staying healthy. If he can pull that off, however, Malkin might be hard-pressed to match his pace.
Early-season favorite: Crosby.
Norris (Best defenseman)
Candidate: Kris Letang.
What it will take: Keeping his offensive game at its current level, or even raising it, while exorcising some of his defensive-zone flaws.
Why it might not happen: Starting the season on injured-reserve when there are so many Norris-worthy defensemen in the league doesn't bode well for his chances.
Early-season favorite: Ryan Suter (Minnesota).
Rocket Richard (Goal-scoring champion)
What it will take: Malkin already has a 50-goal season to his credit and losing linemate James Neal, a darkhorse Richard possibility before an unspecified injury forced him out of the lineup indefinitely, might actually pad Malkin's total by prompting him to shoot in some situations when he might otherwise have tried to set up Neal.
Why it might not happen: Although Malkin is a accomplished goal-scorer, there are a few other guys, Alex Ovechkin of Washington and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos prominent among them, who generally find the net even more often than he does.
Early-season favorite: Ovechkin.
Selke (Top defensive forward)
Candidate: Pascal Dupuis.
What it will take: Something just shy of divine intervention. Not because there are any soft spots in Dupuis' defensive work, including his strong penalty-killing, but because there's a group of perennial contenders for the award, and he's not one of them. Still, people whose attention is caught by his offensive numbers might look closely enough to notice the rest of his game.
Why it might not happen: Guys generally have to be Selke-worthy for about three years before they actually win the award, and that statute of limitations still is running for Dupuis.
Early-season favorite: Patrice Bergeron (Boston).
The week ahead
Tuesday: Carolina ... The Penguins didn't see former teammate Jordan Staal until the final game of the 2013 regular season. They won't have to wait nearly that long this time.
Friday: at Florida ... Seems like a waste to travel to south Florida at a time when the weather in Western Pennsylvania still is quite pleasant.
Saturday: at Tampa Bay ... Games against the Lightning just won't be the same after the departure of its captain and franchise cornerstone, Vincent Lecavalier.