After taking home the Cup the previous spring, the Penguins were stunned by the eighth-seeded Canadiens in the second round last year. Maybe that was a little bit of karma for Matt Cooke’s viscous blindside hit on Marc Savard in March.
Despite that disappointing finish, and the continued presence of Cooke after signing him to a three-year extension this summer, Pittsburgh remains a top contender as the Penguins move into their new state of the art facility across the street from the old Igloo. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, Pittsburgh’s new rink would be wise to leave plenty of dates open for playoff games this spring.
2009-10 Record: 47-28-7, 101 points (2nd Atlantic Division; 4th Eastern Conference; lost in second round to Montreal, 4-3)
Bruins record vs. Penguins: Boston leads the all-time series 100-53-21-4, but went 1-2-1 last year. Things started well enough with a 3-0 win at the Garden on Nov. 10, but the Bruins lost 6-5 in overtime in Pittsburgh on Nov. 14 when Bill Guerin tied the game at 19:59 of the third and Pascal Dupuis scored on a Tim Thomas turnover in OT. That was just the beginning of the bad news against the Penguins, as the Bruins lost 2-1 in Pittsburgh in a game overshadowed by Cooke’s cheap shot on March 7, then the B’s hit rock bottom on March 18 in a 3-0 loss at the Garden in the so-called revenge game.
When to watch: The Bruins will get their next chance to avenge that embarrassment at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Nov. 10 and Monday, Jan. 10. The Penguins don’t return to Boston until Saturday, Jan. 15 and Saturday, March 5.
Familiar faces: Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik hails from Braintree, Mass. and attended Boston College, while blue-line prospects Ben Lovejoy (Concord, N.H./Dartmouth) and Brian Strait (Waltham, Mass./Boston University) also have local roots. Forward Craig Adams went to Harvard and goalie prospect John Curry played at Boston University. Philip Samuelsson, son of longtime Bruins nemesis Ulf Samuelsson, is currently playing for Boston College after being selected in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Penguins.
Key additions: D Paul Martin (free agent); D Zbynek Michalek (free agent); F Arron Asham (free agent); F Ryan Craig (free agent); D Corey Potter (free agent)
Key losses: D Sergei Gonchar (signed with Ottawa); D Jordan Leopold (signed with Buffalo); D Dan Hamhuis (signed with Vancouver); D Mark Eaton (signed with N.Y. Islanders); F Alexei Ponikarovsky (signed with Los Angeles); F Bill Guerin (free agent); D Jay McKee (free agent); F Ruslan Fedotenko (free agent)
Burning question: Is there enough talent on the wings to complement Crosby and Malkin?
The Penguins have arguably the best set of centers in the league with Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal, but lack elite options on the wings for them to skate with. That weakness could be even more pronounced this year as last season’s top two scoring wings have hit the free agent market. Trade deadline pickup Alexei Ponikarovsky (21-29-50) signed with Los Angeles, while Bill Guerin (21-24-45) remains unsigned but is not expected to return to Pittsburgh. The Pens are left with Chris Kunitz (13-19-32) and Pascal Dupuis (18-20-38), while prospect Eric Tangradi could earn a shot to play on a scoring line. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma has discussed moving Staal (21-28-49) to wing to address the weakness.
2010-11 outlook: Even with questionable scoring options on the wings, any offense with Crosby (51-58-109) and Malkin (28-49-77) will still be a force. Pittsburgh will also have to overcome the loss of top-scoring defenseman Sergei Gonchar (11-39-50), who signed with Ottawa. The Penguins traded for the rights to Dan Hamhuis, but were unable to sign him. Instead, they added Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. They are superior defensively, but the Penguins will miss Gonchar’s offensive abilities, especially on the power play. Pittsburgh added more grit by signing Arron Asham. He’ll join Michael Rupp, Adams and heavyweight Eric Godard to give the Penguins plenty of muscle. That’s good to give Crosby and Co. some protection, but won’t be beneficial to the game if Cooke uses their presence to shield himself from retribution after his next round of cheap shots.
Did you know? Bruins players and fans aren’t the only ones with a problem with Cooke. His newest teammate called him "gutless" less than a year ago. Asham and Cooke were involved in a scrum in a Jan. 24 game, and Asham accused Cooke of biting him. Asham may have been willing to forgive that transgression, but refusing to fight after the incident was a far greater hockey sin.
"You should have a little more honor than that," Asham told reporters after the game. "Usually if you bite somebody you stick up for yourself and you fight the guy. Not this guy, he’s chicken and I have no respect for him. He plays the game hard and I respect him for that, but he yaps. He’s a dirty player. At least a guy like [Sean] Avery fights. This guy is just chicken [expletive] and I hate him. It would have been better if he dropped the gloves with me, but he’s got no stones."
Sounds like the first day of camp could be interesting.
Next: We’re finally in the home stretch as we begin our look at the Bruins’ Northeast Division rivals with a check on defending division champion Buffalo on Friday.
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