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Pittsburgh Penguins 2010 Training Camp Outlook

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
CONSOL Energy Center will make its long-awaited debut this week as the Pittsburgh Penguins will have the chance to christen their beautiful new facility when the team begins its 2010 training camp with the first practice Saturday morning.

Expectations will be high for the 2010-11 campaign thanks to a talented quartet of offseason additions that join a strong returning core, which once again includes reigning “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner Sidney Crosby, former Art Ross and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin and Stanley Cup-winning netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

During the Penguins’ chase for a fourth Stanley Cup championship, will be the No. 1 source for all things Penguins related with in-depth features, game recaps, videos from PensTV and daily blogs. We begin our ’10-11 coverage with a preview of the top storylines heading into camp.

After finishing last season ranked 20th in the National Hockey League with a 2.87 goals-against average, general manager Ray Shero’s No. 1 priority during the offseason was to strengthen the team’s defensive corps.

Shero did that in a big way on July 1 when he inked free agents Zbynek Michalek (Phoenix) and Paul Martin (New Jersey) each to five-year contracts.

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Playing alongside Sidney Crosby is no doubt one of the best gigs in the NHL, and it’s a job that has been held the past season and a half by Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin. Kunitz is back to resume his role on the left side, but Guerin’s departure to Philadelphia creates an opening on right wing.

Among returning players, Pascal Dupuis figures to have the inside track at the outset of camp. Dupuis, who has played off and on with Crosby since arriving from Atlanta in February of 2008, is coming off of a strong season which saw him post 18 goals and 38 points, both the second-highest totals of his career. Dupuis’ hard shot – especially with the improved accuracy he displayed last year – and speed are a good mesh with Crosby’s talents.

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Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were strong additions defensively, but replacing Sergei Gonchar’s offensive prowess won’t be easy. Gonchar posted 50 or more points during each of his four full seasons with the Penguins, and he was the quarterback and calming influence on the power play.

As the Penguins’ young core continues to mature, leaders such as Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal should be able to make up for Gonchar’s lost intangibles. Offensively, young blueliners Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski are going to have to continue where they left off in the postseason.

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Penguins center Jordan Staal enters the ’10-11 regular season riding a 302-consecutive regular-season games played streak.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that streak will hit 303 games.

Staal is expected to miss all of training camp and the beginning of the regular season after having a follow-up surgery to cure an infection that developed following a surgery to further repair a lacerated tendon in his foot. The original procedure was done following Game 2 of the Penguins’ semifinals series with the Montreal Canadiens.

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Let’s face it, whether it is the players, coaches or fans, things are going to feel at least a little strange for everybody in the early going as we all get used to CONSOL Energy Center. But that should be expected after the franchise spent the first 43 years of its existence across the street at the Civic Arena.

The process of turning CONSOL Energy Center into “home” and making it a tough place for opponents isn’t going to happen overnight. In fact, don’t expect it to be something that will be complete by the end of training camp either.

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Sergei Gonchar and Bill Guerin were not just strong players on the ice for the Penguins, they were also instrumental in helping captain Sidney Crosby off the ice as alternate captains thanks to their veteran experience.

But Gonchar skated off to Ottawa as a free agent and Guerin is attending Philadelphia Flyers camp on a tryout basis, leaving at least one alternate captain spot open.

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On one hand, most of the Penguins’ core of talented superstars are all in their early 20s and quite capable of handling a heavy workload.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how young your legs are – when you play 303 hockey games over three seasons (including postseason), it’s bound to catch up to you at some point.

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Read the following sentence carefully a few times, allow the words to sink in and then think just how remarkable they are.

Penguins No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury enters the 2010-11 season at just 25 years old.

Now that you have read and re-read that several times, let me tell you the above statement is not a misprint.

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Professional sports is all about marquee matchups. As far as hockey goes, there’s nothing that can compare to the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin battling Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

By most experts’ opinions, those three superstars represent the top-three hockey players in the world. As out-of-this-world as each performs on an almost nightly basis, it seems like they save their best hockey for when they play each other.

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Last season the Penguins saw several players step forward and post some of the best numbers of their careers, while others saw their numbers drop off a bit for one reason or another. For a team like the Penguins to navigate its ways through the grind of an 82-game regular season and then pick up the 16 postseason victories that are required to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, they need strong contributions from everyone along the way.

Whether it’s Evgeni Malkin staying healthy and getting his production back to the 110-point level or Pascal Dupuis again chipping in with another 18 goals, it’s going to be a team effort that is going to lift the Penguins where they want to go.

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