A look inside the Penguins' 2008 roster
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PG writer Dave Molinari breaks down the team that will open the season.
A year ago, not many people predicted the Penguins would reach the Stanley Cup final.
Even fewer seem to expect them to do it again this season.
That skepticism is understandable -- the Penguins had significant losses in free agency, they enter the season with some key players injured and some good teams in the Eastern Conference got better over the summer -- but it's a little early for anyone to write them off entirely.
After all, their nucleus of young talent rivals, and likely surpasses, any in the league, and the Penguins proved last season that they can cope with severe adversity.
Teams that lose in the Stanley Cup final almost invariably take a step back the following year, but the Penguins' core personnel makes them a viable threat.CENTERS
The analysis: Crosby and Malkin give the Penguins a one-two punch at center that rivals the best in the NHL -- and should only get better as they gain experience. Both not only are big-time point-producers, but seem to be in line for steady work on the penalty-killing unit.
Talbot will never knock Crosby or Malkin out of a job, but he's diligent defensively, fiercely competitive and has enough offensive talent.
Although the fourth line doesn't figure to get significant ice time -- or be much more than an afterthought -- much of the time, Taffe is an NHL-caliber forward who could step into a larger role if necessary.WINGERS
The analysis: Losing Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone to free agency cost the Penguins two top-six forwards and a considerable chunk of offense, and it remains to be seen whether Miroslav Satan and Jordan Staal can fill the scoring void created by their departures. If not, Ruslan Fedotenko or Janne Pesonen has the skill to contribute offensively, although it might be folly to take for granted that either will be a huge point-producer.
Petr Sykora jelled nicely with Malkin in training camp and those two, with Staal, could accumulate goals as quickly as Crosby and his linemates, one of whom will be Satan.
If the unit with Talbot between Fedotenko and Cooke remains intact, it should be one of the better third lines in the league, and having a player of Tyler Kennedy's caliber around to plug in if needed is luxury not every team enjoys.
Godard, in particular, figures to receive limited ice time when he's in the lineup, but his penchant for doing the unexpected -- sometimes in blatant violation of the rules -- will make him worth watching whenever he goes over the boards.DEFENSEMEN
The analysis: Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang can't reasonably be expected to make everyone forget that Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar will be out with injuries, but both have the skills needed to set up and score goals if they aren't uncomfortable filling an expanded role.
While most of the other defensemen aren't likely to show up on the score sheet very often, they're responsible and reliable in their own end. Brooks Orpik plays the body with vigor and regularity, and Hal Gill has no qualms about throwing around his oversized frame. Mark Eaton is an accomplished shot-blocker and penalty-killer when he isn't hurt, and Rob Scuderi, who missed much of camp with a rib problem, makes far more solid plays than highlights.GOALIES
The analysis: Marc-Andre Fleury's play after returning from a high ankle sprain last season catapulted him to recognition as one of the NHL's better goaltenders. He still hasn't come close to realizing his full potential, though, and his challenge in 2008-09 will be to operate at a high level, game in and game out, the way he did during the stretch drive and most of the playoffs.
Dany Sabourin was brought back before last season to serve as Fleury's backup, and the one-way contract he signed then assures him a place on the NHL roster because the Penguins don't want to pay NHL salaries to more than two goalies.
While Curry is threatening to bump Sabourin from the No. 2 spot on the organizational depth chart, he'll be going back to Wilkes-Barre after the Sweden trip because his development is better served by playing than by watching Fleury. He's a guy who shouldn't be overlooked.
First Published September 29, 2008 12:00 am