The Stars wrap up this little three-game road swing tonight with their first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The usual suspects in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury will all be there, but more than a few changes were made in the Pens organization over the summer. To get a better look at what to expect in Pittsburgh this season, we talked with Mike Darnay of Penguins blog Pensburgh.
My questions, his answers:
1. What do you think will prove to be the most significant offseason move in Pittsburgh? The front office shakeup? A departing player? Summer acquisitions?
Can I say a combination of all these things simultaneously? Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma had to go. The depth of the roster under Shero was BAD. There was no depth at all, in fact. The new front office coming in was big, by shaking up the roster with the James Neal trade, acquiring Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Then they went and killed it on July 1st, getting Thomas Greiss, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, and Christian Ehrhoff, all on cheap, friendly, 1-year deals. To answer your question, ultimately, I think the Penguins got better by subtraction instead of addition. They got rid of a TON of dead weight in Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass, and Deryk Engelland, and they walked away from the option to give terrible contracts to Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.
2. When James Neal was traded to Nashville, critics wondered whether he would be able to maintain his scoring rate no longer playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin. The theory I suppose being that a mannequin on skates could put up respectable point totals on Malkin's wing. Will the converse at all be true? Will Neal's departure have any effect on Malkin's game?
I think it's possible that it could be true. Time will tell. Malkin still looks to be getting back to 100% game speed, and right now he's playing on the wing instead of his usual center position. I think once we see a fully healthy roster with Beau Bennett back in the fold, we'll see what happens with Malkin. Hornqvist was kind of plotted to be Malkin's wing, but with the injuries going on and Mike Johnston tinkering with lines, he's playing with Crosby (and lighting up the scoreboard), so we're just kind of in a holding pattern waiting to see how things come together for the Top 6 forwards.
3. Eleven goals in the first two games of the season, so the offense obviously hasn't slowed down at all. The majority of that scoring though has come from the top two lines. Talk to me about the depth of the Penguins.
The depth of the Penguins through 2 games has already proven its worth in comparison to perhaps the last two SEASONS. Against the Maple Leafs, the 4th Line had a shift where they dominated possession, cycled the puck multiple times, and allowed a line change to come on and score a goal - we telestrated it.
I personally don't remember the 4th line being capable of doing anything like this in recent years. We often saw them just treading water, trying to stay afloat, but still getting hemmed into their own zone.
4. Following on from that, who are the youngsters on the team? The guys I haven't yet heard of, but will soon be forced to pay attention to?
Derrick Pouliot. He was slated to be in training camp for the Penguins, but a shoulder surgery in the spring set him back. He's getting close. He was the 8th pick in the 2012 Draft with the pick that came in the Jordan Staal trade. Also, Scott Harrington. He was just called up from Wilkes-Barre, and it's believed that the Penguins are going to try and rotate him in as a #6/7 defenseman and get him some minutes. Pouliot is more of a flashy defenseman with his skating and shooting, perhaps a younger version of Kris Letang, while Harrington is kind of a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman who is just quietly solid. Perhaps like a younger Paul Martin.
5. The Central Division experienced a bit of an arms race over the summer. Not so much in the Eastern Conference though, I feel. After the Pens won the Metropolitan by 13 points last season, do you feel any of the other teams have made strides to close that gap?
The Islanders look kind of terrifying right now. When they signed Grabovski and Kulemin, it was a wake-up call to Penguins fans that the Islanders could be real. Then they traded for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in a 15-minute span. That said, I'm looking forward to the race between the Islanders and Penguins. A push for the division might be what the Penguins need to be 100% focused and ready for the playoffs. It's easy to imagine that a 10+ point lead in the division for months can make a team and players step off the gas a little.
6. And lastly, Stars-Penguins tonight. Call it.
Penguins win 5-3. Crosby scores two goals.