Previewing the East: Pittsburgh Penguins
NOTE: Over the next several weeks, BlueJackets.com will take an extensive, in-depth look at the Jackets' new opponents in the Eastern Conference. Be on the lookout for photo galleries, analysis, video highlights and more!
Head coach: Dan Bylsma
Captain: Sidney Crosby
LAST YEAR: 36-12-0 (72 points); 1st overall in the Eastern Conference; eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
VS. CBJ in '13-14: 11/1, 11/2, 12/9, 12/29, 3/28
OUTLOOK: Despite being swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, a series that included the Bruins completely neutralizing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are in prime position to repeat their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014 (and they're probably one of the Cup favorites again). They re-signed several key players, including Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Pascal Dupuis, plus they picked up former Penguin defenseman Rob Scuderi from the Los Angeles Kings. Though they have a lot of star power, a question that will need to be answered is whether the team has the chemistry to carry the team all the way to the Stanley Cup. All this without mentioning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who struggled in the playoffs and saw Tomas Vokoun assume the No. 1 role. As Fleury goes, the Penguins go, so they'll need their guy between the pipes for another Cup run.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kunitz is often overshadowed by Crosby, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's just a Sid sidekick. He is just as dangerous of a scoring threat as any player in the NHL and he does so with grit and a serious edge to his game. Along with linemates Crosby and Neal, Kunitz is on one of the most dangerous offensive lines in the league. Together, the three Penguins combined for 146 points and Kunitz led the team with 22 goals during the 2012-13 season. While players are busy worrying about Crosby, Kunitz gets his fair share of scoring opportunities playing with a great distributor - and it results in (a lot of) points on the board.
While the Penguins are stacked up front, they also have a big presence on the blue line and it starts with Orpik. Orpik is a defenseman known not just for his intense physicality, but at age 33, he's a savvy veteran with a wealth of experience. At one end of the ice he will lay a hard check into the boards and at the other, he can jump start the attack with a strong breakout pass. As an alternate captain, Orpik is one of the more experienced guys on the team and stands up for his teammates on a nightly basis. Whenever Brooks Orpik is on the ice, everyone knows.