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5 Questions: Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby's health, No. 1 goalie battle prime factors for defending Cup champs

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Pittsburgh Penguins: 

How will they handle Sidney Crosby's absence?

The Penguins captain seemed poised to have a career year coming off of a Conn-Smythe winning performance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and an equally impressive MVP showing for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. That was put in jeopardy Monday, when Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford said Crosby had been diagnosed with a concussion. There is no timetable for Crosby's return and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said they would try to help Crosby recover as quickly as possible. No matter how much time he misses, Crosby will leave a gaping hole in Pittsburgh's deep lineup. 

How will Matt Murray perform coming off an injury?

Entering his second NHL season, Murray expected to compete with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury throughout training camp for the No. 1 goaltending job. Some felt Murray was the favorite to start against the Washington Capitals in the season opener on Oct. 13, but that changed on Sept. 24, when the Penguins announced Murray would miss 3-6 weeks after breaking his hand during the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Murray, who thought he had jammed his thumb, said he can't grasp his stick properly. Murray's maturity has been touted as one of his greatest assets early in his career and it will be tested again.

Once Murray returns, who starts?

Fleury is Pittsburgh's definitive starter for now. How long that will last is uncertain. Fleury, a 31-year-old veteran, and Murray, his 22-year-old protégé, each performed well last season. Before a second concussion in four months on March 31, Fleury excelled with a 35-17-6 record, 2.29 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Murray replaced Fleury and won 15 of 21 starts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2.08 GAA and .923 save percentage. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he feels fortunate to have two NHL-caliber goaltenders and believes their performance will dictate playing time.

Video: DET@PIT: Fleury lays out to make unreal stick save


Will Evgeni Malkin return to form?

Throughout the first half of last season, Malkin clearly was Pittsburgh's most consistent offensive performer. The center's production dipped late in the season, mostly because of an elbow injury that ended his regular season March 11. He returned during the playoffs on April 16 and had 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in the postseason, but his ability seemed to be hampered. Following Pittsburgh's run to the Stanley Cup, Malkin said his elbow had hindered him throughout the playoffs. He didn't need surgery, but how Malkin responds early in the season will be watched closely.


Can the Penguins draw similar results from a similar lineup?

Pittsburgh surprised opponents with its fast, aggressive group late last season, which helped push it to the Stanley Cup. Though the status quo probably benefits the Penguins, it affords other teams the opportunity to adapt to their speed. With the rest of the NHL well aware of Pittsburgh's up-tempo style, dominating the pace could be more challenging.

Video: CBJ@PIT: Letang snaps one over Bobrovsky's glove

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