NHL lockout comes to an end, Pittsburgh ready to contend for Stanley Cup
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 09:02
What has changed in the sports world since we departed for winter break six weeks ago?
The Steelers’ season came to a dismal end, the Eagles fired the most tenured head coach in the NFL, No. 1 ranked Duke got demolished by Miami and, more importantly, the NHL is back and hockey is in full force.
The Penguins kicked off their regular season with two impressive victories over divisional foes, defeating their cross-state rivals 3-1 in Philadelphia and embarrassing the New York Rangers 6-3 at Madison Square Garden.
Their return home proved less impressive as they fell at the hands of the always lackluster Toronto Maple Leafs. To keep the losing streak alive, they traveled to Winnipeg and braved temperatures hovering around 30 below, only to fall victim of the Jets.
Traveling to Canada’s capital, they rebounded with a shootout victory over the Senators.
The Penguins were given another chance to show their home crowd what they could do Tuesday, hosting John Tavares and the Islanders, but what seems to be the 2013 Consol Energy Center curse lived on and they fell 4-1.
However, the Penguins were able to bounce back yesterday with another victory over the Rangers, a 3-0 shutout in New York.
Picked to finish first in the Eastern Conference by The Hockey News, with many oddsmakers predicting them to run away with the organization’s fourth Stanley Cup, the Penguins season is headlined by the return of their captain, Sidney Crosby.
Crosby played just 22 games last season with concussion struggles after a hit suffered in the 2011 Winter Classic.
Just seven games into the condensed 2012-2013 season, Crosby, is second to teammate Evgeni Malkin, in points with seven. His three goals are good enough for second on the team, trailing James Neal’s seven.
In the offseason, the Penguins signed 36-year old veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun to a two year contract. Vokoun spent the 2011-2012 season with the Washington Capitals and appeared in 48 games, posting a 25-17 record and a .917 save percentage.
Penguins General Manager Ray Shero has said that Vokoun was brought in to challenge starter Marc-Andre Fleury, although Vokoun believes he provides more of a backup role for Fleury, who was less than adequate in the team’s 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff run.
Vokoun has appeared in four of the Penguins seven games and boasts and impressive .940 save percentage and a 2-1 record.
Fleury has struggled of late, posting a .890 save percentage and a 2-2 record.
Also new to the Penguins is center Brandon Sutter, who came over in the Jordan Staal trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the offensive and defensive prowess of Staal will certainly be missed, Sutter has proved an impressive replacement. The 23-year old has only registered one assist in his seven games, but has impressed the likes of Shero and Head Coach Dan Bylsma.
Thursday, the Penguins claimed Zach Boychuk off waivers from Carolina. Once touted as a future star, Boychuk has been average in his four pro seasons with the Hurricanes. In 37 games, the Canadian has recorded 16 goals and 16 assists.
While the team has been unable to stay consistent through seven games, it is hard to believe that, come April, the Penguins will not be making another push for Lord Stanley’s cup.