With the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement now ratified by the owners and the players, we can “officially” say that now……NHL hockey has returned! I am not jaded and bitter as some hockey fans, which will be an article for another day, and welcome the league and players back excitedly.
As I am writing this on Sunday morning, all NHL teams are set to to open their training camps today for a condensed one week period of time. Instead of doing a broad NHL team by team over view, I decided to just look at 5 things I think need to happen for the Pittsburgh Penguins to have a successful shortened season.
#1 – Evgeni Malkin CAN NOT regress.
I do not mean this in the conventional sense, as I think that Malkin is on the same level as Sidney Crosby. There does seem to be this weird circumstance that comes along though. It seems whenever Crosby is healthy and returns to the line up, Malkin decides to take a step back. He needs to step forward when Sidney is in the line up though. Use it to push himself, as I am sure that Crosby will use the chance to motivate himself with Malkin.
#2 – The Defensive Zone Needs To Be Better
I am not putting the blame on just one player or solely on Marc-Andre Fleury for what happened in the play offs last year as the entire team were utterly terrible in their own zone. The defense looked tired and overwhelmed. Fleury struggled behind the inconsistent play of the defenders in front of him and the team should be embarrassed. I think due to the current pieces available this season, we will see atleast one of the young “up and comers” take a regular shift in the NHL this season. Despres? Morrow? Someone else? I don’t know who it will be but there will be a new face in the locker room.
#3 – The Real Deal Needs To Be The Real Deal
James Neal needs to approach the same level of production and skill as last season if this team is to be successful. He doesn’t need to be a 40 goal man once again (but that would be extremely swell if he could!) but I would like to see him score at least 30 to 40 goals and chip in between 75 to 85 points. He will need to once again play alongside Malkin as he seemed to bring out the best of Geno and they developed an amazing chemistry.
#4 – Disco Dan Has To Maintain Control
Not of his anger but of this group of players. In the play offs last season, the team looked like they were completely out of control and it appeared that no one tried to make the players accountable or even try to regain control. To me it looked like Dan Bylsma lost the team and he knew it by his body language behind the bench. This is HIS team and he needs to ensure that it remains HIS team.
#5 – The Kid Needs To Be Alright
Can the Pittsburgh Penguins win games without Sidney Crosby? Yes, they can. Can they win the Stanley Cup without Sidney Crosby? I don’t think so. The Penguins need their captain to be 100% healthy and to produce at the clip he was last season, even though it was only a brief part of the season. Last season in only 22 games, he scored 37 points. Over a full season he would have scored 140 points. That type of season would have been a career high in points for a single season and also would have placed him way ahead of Malkin’s totals. If he is healthy, he is the best in the world….bar none.
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