The Penguins are having another great regular season, but nothing they do in the scheduled 82 games means much in light of recent post-season failures. Since winning the Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh has won just three playoff rounds in four years and was swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final last spring. That’s why the Pens are expected to bolster what’s already a terrific team.
While the Penguins will be judged solely on what they do in the post-season, their stellar work in the seven-month dress rehearsal shouldn’t be completely overlooked. Marc-Andre Fleury — whose playoff shortcomings the past couple of seasons are well documented — has put together a sturdy bounce-back year. The special teams have been outstanding, with both the power play and penalty-kill ranking among the very best in the league. Pittsburgh’s overall goals-against average has also improved from recent seasons, which, in addition to Fleury’s improved play, is attributable to the addition of defensive guru Jacques Martin to the coaching staff.
Aside from the shocking development of Kris Letang suffering a minor stroke, the blueline has been a pleasant surprise. Matt Niskanen is having a career year, while 19-year-old rookie Olli Maatta has been able to handle more than 18 minutes a night.
Click player positions to see depth chart
Areas to address
The Penguins are still searching for a forward to fill the void created on the top line when right winger Pascal Dupuis was lost to knee surgery. Dupuis’ strong two-way game was the perfect compliment for the offensive wizardry of Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, and none of the various players who’ve skated in his spot have proven they belong.
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero has a history of being active at this time of year, making big splashes for players like Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin and Jarome Iginla. The Penguins have a slew of young defencemen in their system, so the bargaining chips are there if they want to make a serious move. That said, Shero has also expressed concern about depleting the team’s pipeline and will never use a top prospect as leverage to fill a short-term need.
While Letang’s murky health situation alters the complexion of the defence a bit, don’t expect Pittsburgh to try and find another offence-minded d-man. Puck-mover Paul Martin sustained a hand injury at the Olympics (out 4-6 weeks), but should be good to go in plenty of time for the second season. The goalie situation is interesting because of Fleury’s aforementioned playoff struggles and the uncertainty surrounding Tomas Vokoun, who was diagnosed with a blood clot just before the season started. It’s unclear whether Vokoun will return in time for the playoffs, so Shero might kick the tires on another padded insurance policy.
Possible trade targets
Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers
Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres
Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames
Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers