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Penguins-Senators Preview @NHLdotcom

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury haven't gone anywhere, but much of the Pittsburgh Penguins' supporting cast has changed from the team that went to the Stanley Cup finals last spring.

The Ottawa Senators certainly hope they haven't gotten any better.

The defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins will open their season Saturday with the first of two games in Stockholm, Sweden against the Senators, who were swiftly swept out of the playoffs by Pittsburgh in the first round.

The Penguins (47-27-8) posted the second-best record in the East in 2007-08, then had everything come together in the playoffs. Pittsburgh outscored the Senators 16-5 during a four-game sweep and tore through the East, dropping just two games in three rounds heading to the Stanley Cup finals.

That's where a veteran Detroit team proved too much for the young Penguins, winning the Cup in six games. After Pittsburgh was outscored 7-0 in the first two games on the road, the final four games of the series were decided by one goal apiece, including the clinching game at Mellon Arena, a 3-2 loss after Crosby's last-second shot failed to cross the goal line.

"It's going to be motivating for sure, but it's done," Crosby said of trying to avenge last season's finals defeat. "There's not a lot of thought about it any more. It's a new season and a clean slate."

The Penguins begin the season with a different look to the cast around their 20-year-old captain. The biggest loss up front was winger Marian Hossa, who had 15 goals and 21 assists after being acquired by general manager Ray Shero at last season's trade deadline.

Hossa, a former Senator, signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings in the offseason, leaving Crosby, who was second in the league with 1.36 points per game in 2007-08, without his most talented linemate. He'll now be flanked by veteran pickups Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko, who each scored 16 goals last season with the New York Islanders.

The Penguins also parted ways with forward Ryan Malone, who had 16 points in the playoffs, and enforcer Georges Laraque.

But with Crosby, Malkin - second in the league with 106 points - Jordan Staal and Fleury, who was 24-8-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average after February, the Penguins have arguably the most talented young core in the league.

"The important thing for us is we do have a lot of guys who went through that (playoff) stretch and who have played together for a while, so I think the new guys coming in are going to fit in nicely," said Crosby, who had two goals and six assists in the first round against Ottawa (43-31-8).

Where the Penguins may run into trouble is on defense. Ryan Whitney underwent foot surgery in August and is likely out until at least January, and five-time All-Star Sergei Gonchar dislocated his shoulder in the team's first exhibition game. He'll miss four-to-six months after having arthroscopic surgery.

Another player Pittsburgh won't have is pesky forward Jarkko Ruutu, who left the Pens during the offseason to sign a three-year deal with Ottawa as part of general manager Bryan Murray's attempt to add some grit up front.

Murray guided the Senators after firing coach John Paddock in February, but he hired Craig Hartsburg to run the team this season. Hartsburg, who formerly led Chicago and Anaheim, hasn't been a head coach in the NHL since 2001.

One of the changes Hartsburg seems to have in store is breaking up the Senators' top line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and team captain Daniel Alfredsson. The trio combined for 115 of the team's 258 goals in the regular season but was shut out in the playoffs, and Hartsburg will drop Alfredsson to the second line in hopes of balancing the team's attack.

"Every line, we're going to ask to contribute," Hartsburg told the Senators' official Web site. "We know Spezza's line is expected to score, but we don't want anyone going into a game thinking 'I don't have to score."

Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley combined for 13 of the team's 18 regular-season goals against Pittsburgh.

The Senators will look different defensively as well. Wade Redden left via free agency and Andrej Meszaros was traded to Tampa Bay for defensemen Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard. They also signed Jason Smith, who last season served as Philadelphia's captain and defensive leader.

They'll be protecting goaltender Martin Gerber (30-18-4, 2.72 GAA), who overtook the controversial Ray Emery as the team's starter last season. Emery has since left to play in Russia.

Gerber is 4-0-1 with a 3.16 GAA in his regular-season career against Pittsburgh. Fleury is 2-4-0 with a 4.97 GAA versus the Senators in the regular season, but held them to five goals in four games in last season's first round.

The Penguins and Senators will play a second game at Stockholm's Globe Arena on Sunday before returning home to play their first games in the U.S. on Oct. 11.

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