The Pittsburgh Penguins followed up their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 15 years by splitting a pair of games overseas last weekend. After spending nearly a week addressing their shortcomings, they're confident they'll look more like the reigning Eastern Conference champions in their home opener.
On the night they'll raise their Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference championship banners at Mellon Arena, the Penguins hope to more closely resemble last season's form as they host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday in a matchup between the top two teams in the Atlantic last season.
Though 2006-07 Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby was limited to 53 games last season because of an ankle injury, Pittsburgh still managed to win 47 games for the second consecutive season, ended an eight-year division title drought and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since winning back-to-back championships in 1991 and '92.
The Penguins lost to Detroit in the finals in six games, but entered the 2008-09 season confident that they could take that next step. To do so, they may need to improve on their performance in Stockholm, Sweden last weekend, when they split two games with Ottawa, which they swept in the first round of the playoffs in April.
"That's only two games," Penguins coach Michel Therrien told the team's official Web site. "Nobody is in panic mode right here. It takes time and patience. We have to work on it. One thing I know, we'll get better."
The Penguins went 1-for-14 on the power play against the Senators after ranking fifth in the NHL with 77 power play goals and fourth with a 20.4 percent conversion rate last season.
"The power play has to be better," said Crosby, who has two assists but is still looking for his first goal of the new season. "... We just need to make sure that we execute and that just comes from practicing. If we can do it in practice and execute, make plays quick, that's going to transfer over to a game.
"Whenever we've struggled a little bit on the power play, we've tried to simplify things and try to get shots. I think we need to generate better quality shots."
Pittsburgh may also need to step up defensively. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who signed a seven-year, $35 million contract in July, gave up three goals in each of the first two games, a 4-3 overtime victory last Saturday and a 3-1 defeat the following day.
That doesn't bode well for a meeting with the Devils, who won their season opener Friday night thanks in part to Martin Brodeur.
The 16th-year veteran and career Devil, who went 44-27-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average and four shutouts en route to his fourth Vezina Trophy last season, stopped a penalty shot and finished with 25 saves in a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders.
Patrik Elias and Zach Parise scored for New Jersey to help Brodeur record his 539th career victory, 12 shy of the NHL mark held by Patrick Roy.
"Hopefully, he can get those wins he needs as quickly as possible," said Elias, who scored the deciding goal early in the second period. "That's the best for us. The more wins he gets, the better for the team. It looks like he hasn't missed a beat. Nothing has changed. That's great for us."
Brodeur, whose continued success last season led the Devils to the second-best record in the Atlantic before a disappointing first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers, went 3-4-0 with a 3.40 GAA in seven games against the Penguins last season, and the Devils were 4-4-0 in the season series.
The Penguins went 3-0-1 in the last four meetings, but were just 1-3-0 in the series with Crosby in the lineup despite the All-Star's three goals and three assists in those contests.