Let's get the Pittsburgh perspective on Saturday's season opener against the Penguins.
The Penguins are in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers in today's home opener, and to prepare, we talked with our friend Hooks Orpik from SB Nation's Penguins blog, Pensburgh. So like, Pittsburgh still sucks, right?
Our full Q&A can be seen here. Head on over to Pensburgh before the game to see our answers to their questions.
1. Why should we think the Penguins are better than the Flyers? Like, what's changed since last year? They lost Jordan Staal and...
I would agree that on paper I don't think the Penguins are better right now in 2013 than they were in the Spring of 2012. Brandon Sutter, while not Jordan Staal, is a very good player and I think he's going to play very well. The main difference for the Pens -- or so the docs say -- could be Sidney Crosby.
Last season when he came back he was a bit more of (but not exclusively) a perimeter player and more cautious. Now with more time off, and with not having to catch up to NHL game speed making comebacks in the middle of the season, look for Crosby to get back towards his 50 goal days and that will be a big edge.
After all, last playoffs Crosby scored in the first minute of Game 2 then didn't really score a goal the rest of the series (he was credited with a goal that deflected off his back from a point shot in Game 4). Whether you believe it's a convenient narrative or not, Crosby was probably physically and emotionally gassed last season and this long layoff should have him in a much better form.
That aside, I think the Pens and Flyers are still evenly matched and have the skill to make entertaining, run-and-gun games, wheresometimes the good guys win (2008, 2009) and sometimes it goes the other way (2012).
2. Are you confident in Marc-Andre Fleury this season?
A moderate to high level of confidence. To watch Marc-Andre Fleury is to generally like him. If he can get out of the first 5-10 minutes without giving up a goal, he's usually going to be pretty good in a game. And he was last season going 42-17-4 with a 2.36 GAA and .913 save percentage, which I think is about the best of stats that any goalie will put up in front of a defensive mindset that the Penguins have that is very aggressive and sometimes results in lapses.
Now if the train gets off the rails, it can go bad in a quick for Fleury who's prone to mental mistakes and some awful goals (no need to tell you). If it's headed down that path, now there's always Tomas Vokoun to turn to, someone who has to be near the top of the list for best "backup" goalie in the league.
3. What's the biggest strength the Pens have this season?
The Penguins were the highest scoring team in the league last season and they only had Crosby for 22 games. Pure offensive firepower is there with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal at the top of the list of the best goal scorers in the league these days.
4. What worries you the most about the team?
Defense and attention to detail. With Crosby back it's almost like the mindset of "hey, we don't have to backcheck (or hustle or stay in lanes or block shots, etc) as much...we got Sid and Geno and can get it back" kind of crept in. The Pens gave up 4+ goals in five of the last 14 games of the season after Crosby's permanent return. I think that mindset and focus also was exploited by the Flyers in the playoffs, because they had the speed and skill to matchup with the Penguins and took advantage of those pesky little things called "killing penalties" better.
5. Which Flyer do you hate the most and why? ("All of them" is not an answer, even if it's your actual answer.)
They all have their high points. On the ice, I single out Scott Hartnell, and more out of respect than anything. He looks ridiculous, plays with an edge and beaks a lot, but he also backs it up more often than not by scoring, and always from right in front of the goalie. Like Mike Knuble before him, Hartnell just has that annoying consistency about him that's bad enough ... then you add in the yapping, the hits, the glue he apparently puts on his gloves before playing Pittsburgh (never fights) and it's just a Flyer in a microcosm.