With the start of the NHL regular season just a little over two weeks away, the Pittsburgh Penguins 2010 Training Camp kicked into high gear this weekend with open practices on Saturday and Sunday at the all new Consol Energy Center. Players, coaches, and fans alike all descended on the new arena in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh to go about the business of preparing for the season ahead and finalizing the team’s roster. It was a chance for the fans to see the depth of the organization on display inside their new high tech arena. For the coaching staff, it was all about assessing the players skills and conditioning and looking at options for the year ahead. With 55 players on the ice and a mere two days of practice on the books, we have cautiously come away with some general observations on how the Penguins may shape up for the 2010-2011 season.
- Forwards: Last season’s first line pairings were reunited on Squad A with Sidney Crosby centering Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. The line looked really solid as a unit once they got going and shook off a little summer rust. Although failing to score during the Saturday’s scrimmage, they played well together and dominated at times in the offensive zone creating quality scoring chances. Squad C gave us a look at a potential new second line trio of rookie Eric Tangradi, newcomer Mike Comrie, and Evgeni Malkin. As expected, Malkin has moved from center to right wing. Mike Comrie took up the center position with the rookie Tangradi playing the role of power forward on the left wing to perfection. So far, the combo has shown great potential in cycling the puck and opening up space down low and have grabbed the early buzz coming out of the first weekend of camp. The coaching staff was impressed with the early chemistry of the line, and Coach Bylsma named Tangradi (among others) when asked about players that have stood out at camp so far. Squad B fielded a new look for what could become a potential Penguins 3rd line featuring Mark Letestu centering wingers Arron Asham and Matt Cooke. Letestu has had a fabulous weekend at camp and has scored once in each of the first two scrimmages. Having Asham and Cooke on opposing wings seems to be a recipe for gritty success on the third line. With Jordan Staal out of the lineup for the early part of the season, Letestu may well get the chance to move up. He seems to be making the most of this opportunity. The fourth line makeup also has a number of options with regulars Mike Rupp, Craig Adams, Tyler Kennedy, and Max Talbot all likely to remain in the mix, with other players like Dustin Jeffrey getting a good look as well.
- Defensemen: The Penguins defensive pairings are definitely a work in progress with just three regulars from last season returning to the team (Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski). Early defensive pairings at Camp have included Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik on Squad A, Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy on Squad B, and Paul Martin and Kris Letang on Squad C. It would seem that Orpik, Goligoski, Letang, Martin and Michalek are a lock to take the top five defensive positions, with Lovejoy being an early favorite for rounding out the 6th spot. That being said, the competition is still keen for the 6th spot and the 7th reserve defenseman. In addition to Lovejoy, the Penguins are evaluating Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, Andrew Hutchinson, Corey Potter, Carl Sneep, Brian Strait, and Steve Wagner. Also not to be overlooked, Brooks Orpik is recovering from sports hernia surgery that he underwent in June. Although he has shown no apparent ill affects from the surgery during the early stages of camp, he stated today that he requires an additional 40-minutes for warmups in the morning and an additional 30-minutes of rehab exercises each day. If he experiences any setbacks, the Penguins may have to go to their depth early in the season.
- Goaltending: Goaltending is the only area in which there are no potential openings on the team going into camp. Marc-Andre Fleury will continue to hold the top spot for the team, while Brent Johnson will serve as his full-time backup. Both players arrived at camp ready to compete and prepare for the season ahead. Fleury will undoubtedly be looking for more consistency than he exhibited last season. At camp, he has already displayed the speed and flexibility that made him a great goaltender in this league. He has also displayed his competitiveness and unflappable sense of humor. The coaching staff will get an opportunity to assess their depth in goal, however, should injuries force a call up during the coming year. That depth consists of American John Curry, Canadian Patrick Killeen, Swede Mattias Modig, and Canadia Brad Thiessen. Russian goaltender Alex Pechurskiy also made it to training camp this season.
Training Camp and practice will continue this week with pre-season play starting up on Wednesday as the Penguins play host to the Red Wings at the Consol Energy Center. They then travel to Columbus on Friday before returning to Pittsburgh to host the Blue Jackets in back-to-back, home and home games. Between now and the season opener against the Flyers on October 7th, the Penguins coaching staff will continue to evaluate the talent at training camp and make the appropriate cuts along the way to get the team established. With Jordan Staal out of the lineup for the first couple of weeks of the season, one player will get the call on an opportunity he has been looking for his entire professional career.