Sidney Crosby learned a lot in living up to lofty expectations placed upon him his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Namely he can't carry the team by himself.
With another potential superstar waiting in the wings, Crosby begins his second season as the Penguins continue their rebuilding process in their opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena on Thursday.
The top overall pick in the 2005 entry draft, Crosby proved to be worth the wait of a season lost to the lockout. As an 18-year-old, Crosby validated comparisons to Wayne Gretzky and one-time teammate, Hall of Famer and team owner Mario Lemieux by leading the team with 39 goals and 102 points.
Crosby, though, finished second in Calder Trophy voting to Washington right wing Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL's top rookie. That runner-up finish on top of all the trials and tribulations of a rookie season have fueled Crosby's desire to improve in his second season.
"If you want to look individually at your play, I think that your second year you should be a better player (because) you're more experienced," Crosby said. "I think you should not be surprised by many things. As a player, I think you should be a better player. I think I'm expecting that of myself."
Losing took a toll on Crosby, who also finished with 110 penalty minutes as opponents learned they could goad the youngster into taking ill-advised penalties as the Penguins struggled with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and finished with 58 points.
New general manager Ray Shero opted to keep coach Michel Therrien, feeling his disciplined style will best serve a team expected to start the season with six players 24 years or younger. While No. 2 overall pick and 18-year-old center Jordan Staal is on the roster, the most NHL-ready player that can help Crosby and the Penguins in is injured center Evgeni Malkin.
The 20-year-old Malkin was the second overall pick in the 2004 draft, and he defected in August while his Russian team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, trained in Finland. With the help of his agent, Malkin was able to reach the United States, opt out of his one-year contract with Metallurg and begin his dream of playing in the NHL.
"We've been lucky over the years to get some great players in Pittsburgh," Lemieux said. "We have two great ones here with Sid and Malkin. It's going to be very exciting around here for the next 10 or 15 years."
Malkin's dream will be delayed for at least one month due to a dislocated shoulder suffered in a Sept. 20 preseason game against the Flyers.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has a tenuous hold on the starting job in front of Jocelyn Thibault. The 21-year-old Fleury - the top overall pick in 2003 - won just 13 games last season and is just 17-41-2-6 with a 3.36 goals-against average with the Penguins.
"We have a lot of confidence in the kid, even though during training camp he was not quite sharp," Therrien said.
The Flyers made a first-round playoff exit for the fifth time in the past eight seasons and are hoping two key players will remain healthy to help them make a deep postseason run.
Center Peter Forsberg - who has not played a full season since 1995-96 - has been named captain and is the team's top pivotman. He scored 75 points in 60 games, missing 22 with a groin injury.
The Flyers went 35-16-9 when he played and only 10-10-2 when he did not.
One of the elite centers in the NHL, Forsberg originally was expected to be out until at least December due to scheduled surgery to repair ligaments in both ankles, but further evaluation revealed only the right ankle needed repair.
"That was the big scare of the summer, that we would be without Peter until Christmas," Flyers right wing Mike Knuble said. "He can make those quick steps and stutters and when he can do those, that's what makes him great."
Forsberg became captain after Keith Primeau retired before training camp after failing to overcome post-concussion syndrome that affected his ability to do simple hockey drills.
Goaltender Antero Niittymaki will try to build off a promising season in which he matched a team rookie record with 23 victories. But Niittymaki will be receiving cortisone shots and undergoing constant rehabilitation to relieve pain in his injured hip in a bid to avoid surgery.
The Flyers are deep at center with 47-goal scorer Simon Gagne and 20-goal scorers Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger returning. Joni Pitkanen will anchor the defense after totaling 46 points in just 58 games as a second-year pro.
Crosby scored seven goals in eight games against the Flyers, but the Penguins went 1-6-1 against their intrastate rivals.