could fit into the picture, too. Pittsburgh will never want to strangle its opponents, not with the offensive firepower it possesses, but must be tighter defensively, particularly in the postseason. Goaltending No one is going to mistake Marc-Andre Fleury for Henrik Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick, but he is a solid presence in net for the Penguins and enjoyed a typically mixed season last year. Fleury had five shutouts, which tied his career high, and his 2.37 GAA fit perfectly with his performances the last three years. In the postseason, Fleury led all goaltenders with two shutouts, despite playing in only two series. And while his 2.40 GAA was better than what he managed the past several seasons, he was part of the Pens squad that gave away a 3-1 Eastern Conference Semifinal lead to New York, hardly a goal-scoring juggernaut. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be a Vezina winner, but on a team that scores a lot, Fleury is fine, so long as he delivers in the playoffs. The Penguins jettisoned Jeff Zatkoff, who started 18 games last year and have added Thomas Greiss as a backup. He had a 2.29 GAA in 20 starts with San Jose last year, and his .920 save percentage was higher than Fleury’s. Power Play It’s hard to imagine that just three seasons ago, Pittsburgh converted only 19.72 percent of its power-play chances. Last year, the number was a far more robust 23.38. That’s what happens when Crosby, Malkin and Kunitz are part of the unit. Kunitz had 13 goals on the power play, while Crosby converted 11 times, and Malkin scored on seven occasions. Putting playmakers Crosby and Malkin on the ice at the same time allows Pittsburgh to put great pressure on rivals, and Kunitz no doubt loves having two great passers feeding him. But Pittsburgh does have to replace Neal, who had 11 power play Evgeni Malkin Claus Andersen/Getty Images scores last year. Expect Hornqvist to step in. He had 10 goals on the advantage last year, so the situation could be under control. Letang has a big shot from the point, so he is a valuable piece of the equation, and Maata is a growing force on the power play, too. Penalty Kill Pittsburgh rebounded from a lousy 2011-12 performance while shorthanded to post one of the league’s best numbers on the penalty kill. There were many reasons for the success, beginning with the fact that the Pens just didn’t allow too many shots while a man down. That led to good goals-against numbers from Fleury and Zatkoff. Expect center Brandon Sutter to reprise his solid performance on the penalty kill, while Spaling should contribute on the unit as well, particularly since there might not be a lot of room for him among the team’s top scorers, with so many weapons around him. Veteran Marcel Goc is a strong two-way player who should see more time this year and has the ability to help out when Pittsburgh is at a disadvantage. Three Questions 1.Will the defense be strong enough? Johnston has said he likes to play fast, and that means the Penguins will be trying to attack a lot. When that happens, there can be moments when rivals get advantages that lead to trouble. It’s fun to score a lot, but champions can clamp down, too. 2. Is Fleury a Cup-caliber goalie? Last year’s Cup final featured arguably the best keepers in the game Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick. Fleury is solid, but he must be better than that in order for the Penguins to break their recent cycle of early exits. 3. Will the offseason changes work? Pittsburgh has overhauled its front office and coaching staff and brought in several new players. While the core remains intact, one never knows whether the dramatic alterations will lead to increased success or troubles creating chemistry. Prediction The Penguins have enough star power to rule the Metropolitan Division, but that’s not why new GM Jim Rutherford and Johnston were brought in. The goal is a better post-season, and the changes that were made, coupled with the talent that is already on the roster should make that happen.
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