ProHockeyTalk previews the Pens

 
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We got ahold of NBC's hockey blog, ProHockeyTalk, to give us a preview of the Pens.
It's always good to get an objective preview from someone further away from the situation than us.
 
Without further ado…
 
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It's only fair that the NBC blog gets to chime in on what we think of the Penguins chances this year, right? After all, there's a fun kinship the loyal Pensblog readers have with NBC that gives me the warm-fuzzies. Anyhow, my cohort at Pro Hockey Talk, James, already weighed in with our site's take on the Pens, but you guys want the straight talk from us and that's cool, so I'll break it down a little differently.

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Obviously there's a lot to like here. You've got Sid, you've got Malkin, you've got a defense that's absolutely filthy in adding Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to a group that's already got Letang and Orpik and Goligoski. I know there's a hot competition for the sixth spot involving Reverend Lovejoy but, frankly, unless injuries come flying out of nowhere, you don't have to worry about the defensive depth too much. The Pens have one of the best top four sets of defensemen in the league. Period. Dan Bylsma has proven himself to be one of the better coaches in the NHL and if there's a guy that knows what to do to make the best of a lineup that does lack some punch from the wings, it's him. I look forward to seeing what Tangradi or Letestu can do to bring another forward into the mix to make things happen with Sid and Malkin. If they can both get in there and get things done that'll be a huge boost.

There are a couple of lingering concerns with the Pens. It starts with Jordan Staal's health. We don't know what's going on, but if he's out for an extended amount of time it hurts. He was poised to have a breakout season with Malkin riding shotgun on his line. There's no question that Crosby and Malkin are great, but asking both of them to pull the 66 maneuver of making a nobody into a big-time producer is asking a lot of both of them. It's good that the third and fourth lines seem to be set up to punish other teams because they'll need that edge to make things work better. I know some folks get concerned about Fleury in goal but with the defense in front of him, he should be fine. Just weather the times when he's a bit off and things will be OK.

The Pens are going to be very good once again and looking at the rest of the Eastern Conference, it'll be trickier but they'll certainly be a playoff team. Having teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta not be rollover-and-die candidates anymore will make navigating the regular season more difficult but that sort of action prepares teams for the playoffs. New Jersey and Philly in the division will be tough to deal with all year long and even the Rangers will be an annoyance. The Pens will either end up as the 2 or the 4 seed going into the playoffs and from there, shake 'em up and roll because then the real fun begins.

Shero will do the same thing at the deadline that he always does and gets a perfect complimentary piece at forward to make the playoffs function easier for Sid, Malkin, and Staal. Paul Martin will have a breakout offensive season breaking free of the New Jersey shackles and makes you guys forget about Gonchar. If you can stomach it, picture what Rafalski has done in Detroit and apply that to what Martin will do in Pittsburgh, except Martin is younger than Rafalski was when he left. Michalek fits in as a mobile, more-talented and offensively productive version of Hal Gill. The Pens are certainly Cup contenders but you guys knew that already. The lack of forward depth scares the crap out of me, but if you didn't already have two of the best players in the league, it'd be a bigger problem. Not that that's a good excuse for always having a sort of spare parts arrangement, but whatever. The way the East is set up, the Pens are no worse than the other Cup contenders in the conference and let's face it, having two of the best players in the game on your side gives them in edge in every game and series they end up in.

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