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Examining the Pittsburgh Penguins defense

by John McGourty / NHL.com

 
 
Complete Penguins Analysis:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards
Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster

The Big Four

There will be competition for the fourth defensive job this season, although rookie Kris Letang may be paired with one of the top three, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and Darryl Sydor, who was acquired to bring veteran leadership to the team.

Gonchar and Whitney were two of the Penguins’ top five scorers last season. Sydor can still contribute offensively, but will probably be asked to stress his considerable defensive skills.

Letang made the Penguins out of training camp last fall and scored in his first two games before being returned to his junior team. He captained Canada's gold-medal team at the World Juniors last year and led all QMJHL defensemen in the playoffs with 31 points, including 12 goals. The Penguins expect he'll make the club this year and stick. That he's the only right-hand shot on the defense helps his chances.

Gonchar led Penguins defensemen in ice time with an average of 26:33 per game. His 67 points were second among all NHL defensemen (Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer was tops with 69), but he was minus-5. Whitney averaged 23:56 in ice time, had 14 goals and 45 assists for 59 points and was plus-5 in only his second NHL season. Sydor is entering his 16th NHL season. He won Stanley Cups with Dallas and Tampa Bay and played in the 1993 Finals with Los Angeles as a rookie.

Brooks Orpik likely will continue to play a lot of Top Four time as Letang is eased into his role. Orpik is the Penguins' big defensive defenseman, a body mover, hard checker and shot blocker. But Orpik pays a price for his contributions: He underwent hand surgery early last season and had a broken foot and an injured shoulder in 2005-06.

Get the point

No experimenting here, the Penguins will stick with Gonchar quarterbacking the first unit and Whitney directing the second unit. Gonchar tied Sheldon Souray for the power-play scoring lead among defensemen with 48 points and tied for sixth among defensemen in power-play goals. Whitney tied Nicklas Lidstrom and Lubomir Visnovsky for eighth place with 33 power-play points, going 9-24-33 with the man advantage. Letang quarterbacked Val D'Or's power play in juniors and will be given some opportunities. Sydor could easily slide into an emergency fill-in role and Rob Scuderi, while he doesn't score much, moves the puck well and always got lots of assists at lower levels.

In the Wings

Alex Goligoski -- The Penguins want to take a look at Goligoski, who left the University of Minnesota a year early. Goligoski is a bit undersized but he was a good point producer for the Golden Gophers.

Ryan Lannon --, At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Lannon could challenge for Orpik's job. He doesn't score much but had 19 assists last season for Wilkes-Barre and was in the plus column in both of his AHL seasons.

X Factor

Darryl Sydor -- The 35-year-old left-handed shot won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the 1999 Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars. He also played in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final with the Los Angeles Kings, who fell to the Montreal Canadiens. Sydor is a very versatile defender who can play the roles of defensive defenseman or offensive defenseman. He's superb in the shutdown role, but he's also effective at moving the puck up ice, joining the rush and shooting. He can run a power-play unit. But the best thing he brings is leadership, on and off the ice. Sydor is a winner and he acts like one. This young team will benefit from his steady play, his offensive contributions, his grit and accountability, his training methods and his understanding of what it takes to go deep into the playoffs. GM Ray Shero will be credited at season's end with one of the best free-agent signings of 2007-08.

Darryl Sydor
Penguins' GM Ray Shero on new defenseman Darryl Sydor:

"Sydor brings additional skill to our defensive corps along with invaluable veteran leadership to our young hockey club. Darryl has proven his dependability throughout his NHL career, and anytime you can add a multiple Stanley Cup winner to a team like ours it is a bonus.”
FAST FACTS

Gonchar
1. Gonchar has 173 goals and 377 assists for 550 points in 826 NHL games.

2. Only Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer, with 69 points, had more production from the blue line than Gonchar's 67 points.

3. Whitney's 10.9 shooting percentage was fifth-best among NHL defensemen.

NHL.com's 2007-08 Penguins Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster
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