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Champion Penguins try to do it again

Friday, 09.25.2009 / 3:00 AM / 2009-2010 Season Preview

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Stay hydrated. Drink a cup of coffee. Pop a couple of aspirin. Take a hot shower.

While those remedies may help to compensate for a night of celebrating, there're not as helpful when trying to avoid a Stanley Cup hangover.

That's what the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to avoid following their dramatic seven-game victory against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. Players have been celebrating for the better part of the offseason. While they've earned that right, the combination of a long season (heck, two long seasons after making the 2008 Final) and less preparation time can have its drawbacks.

Coach Dan Bylsma admits it's a concern, but not one he's going to lose sleep over.

"I do think that's an issue we need to be aware of as a team and as a coaching staff in our preparation and our mindset," Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But that's not any different than any other year. You have to deal with what lies ahead of you."

It's a problem the League's 29 other teams would love to have.

"We need to make sure that we start over again,” Bylsma said. "Our name is right back in the hat with 29 other teams that are going to compete for the Stanley Cup. In order to do that, we have to get better, we have to grow together as a team."

Much of the core of defending champs remains intact, with the biggest losses on defense, where Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill left as free agents. However, the outlook for the new season is still a positive one.
   

 
If you own a Penguins' game program from the end of last season, chances are there isn't much of a difference between the names of the forwards you see and the ones who will take the ice to start this season.

The biggest losses were Petr Sykora (25 goals, 21 assists, 46 points) and Miroslav Satan (17-19-36). The biggest addition was Michael Rupp, who was signed more for his physical presence than his ability to put the puck in the net.

Fortunately for the Pens, scoring goals shouldn't be much of a problem.

Perennial Hart and Art Ross candidates Sidney Crosby (33-70-103) and Evgeni Malkin (35-78-113) are back to anchor the offense. If the playoffs were any indication, expect Crosby to have Chris Kunitz (23-30-53) and Bill Guerin (21-27-48) on his wings. Malkin will likely see time between Ruslan Fedotenko (16-23-39) and Tyler Kennedy (15-20-35), although it's still too early to know line combinations.

This could be a breakout year for 21-year-old Jordan Staal, whose 49 points last season were a career-high. Last season, the Penguins showed they had plenty of balance with a League-high 13 players with 10 or more goals

Other key returning forwards include checking-line center Craig Adams and wingers Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke. Maxime Talbot, the hero of Game 7 last spring, had surgery in July to repair a torn labrum. He's not expected to return until November or December.



The only component of the Penguins that went through a massive change during the offseason was defense. Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, the shutdown pairing against the Red Wings during the Stanley Cup Final, left via free agency for Los Angeles and Montreal, respectively.

Filling their shoes is free-agent acquisition Jay McKee and homegrown product Alex Goligoski, who showed last season while filling in for the injured Sergei Gonchar that he's ready to contribute on a full-time basis.

McKee, 32, is a consummate stay-at-home blueliner who ranked seventh in the League in shots blocked (185) while playing in only 69 games in 2008-09 with St. Louis. Goligoski showed he's an offensive defenseman in the making; his 20 points in 45 games were the third-most among rookie defensemen.

enguins GM Ray Shero liked what he saw in Goligoski so much that he signed him to a three-year contract worth $5.5 million.

"Alex is a skilled young defenseman and a tremendous skater, and we are pleased to sign him to a multi-year deal as we continue to build our young core," Shero said. "He gained some valuable experience this season and made contributions to our Stanley Cup run. He is another example of a great future here in Pittsburgh."

Gonchar, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton will round out the Penguins' top six.



After two deep runs in the postseason, it might be time to move Marc-Andre Fleury out of the category of promising youngster and into the upper echelon of NHL goalies.

The 24-year-old from Quebec was shaky at times last season, but brilliant when he had to be down the stretch. His regular-season numbers won't knock anyone over -- he finished 23rd in goals-against average (2.67) and 21st in save percentage (.912) -- but his 35 wins were seventh in the League.

To help out Fleury, the Penguins brought in backup Brent Johnson. In 21 games with the Washington Capitals last season, he went 12-6-2 with a 2.81 GAA and .908 save percentage before hip surgery ended his season early.

"My hip is 100 percent," Johnson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I feel great. If I would have waited to have the surgery, it could have gotten worse."

Johnson's main competition for the backup job will come from rookie John Curry. The 25-year-old went 33-15-1 with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and his 2.38 GAA was third among AHL goalies with a minimum of 45 starts.

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com


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