Where the hell did hockey come from? I won’t lie. I’ve been so wrapped up in the Pirates contending that I have been rather disconnected from the goings on in the NHL. That’s not to say that I won’t be paying attention tomorrow when the Pittsburgh Penguins open up their season with an old Atlantic division rival in a new Metropolitan division format. The Penguins finished 24 points ahead of the Devils last season and after some changes to the rosters, that gap may get even larger.
Despite finishing so far behind the Pens last year, the Devils did win three of the four match-ups between the two teams. However, that team also had Ilya Kovalchuk who “retired” at the age of 30 back in July. Currently, he’s playing for SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. The Devils signed a gaggle of forwards to help replace him including Michael Ryder, Ryan Clowe, Rostislav Olesz, and the ageless Jaromir Jagr.
Speaking of ageless, Martin Brodeur will be entering what feels like his 232nd season in the NHL. However, he won’t be starting the opener due to the death of his father. That will put Cory Schneider in net who the Devils acquired from Vancouver as their goaltender of the future. Marc-Andre Fleury will re-assume his starting goaltender duties after being replaced by Tomas Vokoun in the postseason. While Fleury is still a big question mark, Vokoun is not an option as he will be out for three to six months after having a blood clot removed. Jeff Zatkoff will back up Fleury.
Vokoun isn’t the only injured Penguin. Kris Letang is out until at least the end of this week with a lower body injury. That allowed the Pens to keep 19 year old Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta with the big club at least temporarily. He was arguably the most impressive defenseman in the organization throughout training camp and he’s going to get an opportunity. Matt D’Agostini is also on long term injured reserve with Vokoun.
Offensively, there isn’t too much concern with the Penguins. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will once again lead the way with a group of top six forwards that they as players and we as fans have grown accustomed to. The only transition in the top six will be the insertion of Jussi Jokinen and/or Beau Bennett.
The concern is going to be the inability to roll four lines. Outside of Brandon Sutter and whoever is left over of Jokinen/Bennett, the bottom six leaves a lot to be desired. D’Agostini figured to be a part of the solution but his injury means more Tanner Glass and the signing of Chuck Kobasew who hasn’t been productive in five years.
Despite some injuries and some question marks in the bottom six, the Penguins will still float around the top of the league and should win the Metropolitan Division. Meanwhile, the Devils might be the worst team in the division. Expect the Pens to start their season off with a win.