2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins Preview: Offseason Changes Won’t Result In Stanley Cup Success

by NESN Staff

October 3, 2014

Sidney Crosby, Zdeno CharaThe Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2013-14 season ended in disappointment after they blew a 3-1 second-round playoff series lead against the New York Rangers and lost in Game 7.

Since winning the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Pittsburgh has lost in the first round twice, the second round twice and the conference finals once. When you consider how much elite talent those Penguins teams had, failing to reach the Cup Final was a huge letdown.

Last season’s failure resulted in head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero being fired. They were replaced by rookie bench boss Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively.

The Penguins made several roster moves over the summer to try to surround superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with more talent. The most notable move was the James Neal trade with the Nashville Predators.

Pittsburgh, at least on paper, has a worse team than it did to start the 2013-14 campaign. There are question marks on the blue line, the bottom-six and in net. A return trip to the Cup Final is unlikely with the current roster.

Let’s preview the 2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Additions/Subtractions
Key arrivals: Steve Downie, Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff
Key departures: James Neal, Jussi Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik,

Player to Watch
Malkin still is one of the three best players in the NHL, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy on a consistent basis, missing 79 total games over the last four seasons. Despite his injury problems, Malkin tallied an astounding 72 points in just 60 games last season, resulting in a 1.2-points per game average that was second-best in the league.

Malkin, not Crosby, is Pittsburgh’s most reliable postseason performer. He led the team with 14 points in 13 playoff games last season, including a team-high six goals — five more than Crosby. Malkin must stay healthy for the Penguins to return to a championship level. He gives Pittsburgh a 1-2 punch at center that few Eastern Conference teams can match.

Biggest Strength
The Penguins have the NHL’s best power play and led the league with a 23.4 percent success rate last season. They ranked fourth with 34 power-play goals at home, and their 32 tallies away from Consol Energy Center ranked third.

This level of success isn’t surprising when you consider Crosby, Malkin and No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang often play on the same unit. The summer signing of puck-moving D-man Christian Ehrhoff will make this power play even more dangerous.

Teams must play smart hockey against the Penguins because putting them on the power play is a recipe for disaster.

Most Glaring Weakness
Pittsburgh has elite talent in its top-six forward group, headlined by Crosby and Malkin, but its bottom six lacks the scoring depth required to win a Stanley Cup.

The Penguins received very little offensive production from their third and fourth lines during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and this group became even weaker with the offseason departures of Jussi Jokinen, Brian Gibbons, Joe Vitale and Lee Stempniak. Making matters worse is Beau Bennett’s leg injury, which will force him to miss the start of the regular season.

Pittsburgh cannot rely solely on its top two lines to provide consistent scoring production if this team is going to make a deep playoff run.

Expectations In 2014-15
The Penguins will secure one of the three playoff berths from the Metropolitan Division, but finishing first for the third consecutive season is far from a guarantee. This team lost two of its top four defensemen (Niskanen and Orpik) and a 40-goal scorer in Neal, and it will need to adjust to a new head coach. Injuries to Malkin and Bennett also are a concern.

Pittsburgh has enough talent to win 45 to 50 regular-season games, but it lacks the goaltending quality, blue line talent and bottom-six depth to win a championship. Expect the Penguins to be eliminated in the second or third round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

NESN.com’s 2014-15 NHL team previews >>

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