Defensively, the Penguins are strong. Stronger than they’ve been in maybe a decade.
Because of this, the blue line should be the only non-question mark going in to the season.
Therrien has a multitude of capable defensemen, eight to be exact, that can play their position well night-in and night-out if needed. Choosing who plays shouldn’t be a problem either.
Gonchar – Orpik
For the top pairing I chose the top two defensemen on the team. Luckily, it just so happens that, together, they exemplify everything that makes a good defenseman.
Gonchar brings the leadership and production. The man never gets the league-wide credit he deserves. Last season he posted 65 points (12 G – 53 A), yet he wasn’t even a Norris Trophy candidate last season.
Credit or no credit, he leads the defensive corps and will most likely put up the same kind of numbers in 2008-2009.
On the other side is the Penguins hardest hitter. Brooks Orpik has suddenly developed in to one of the most talented, hard hitting defensemen in the National Hockey League. The question is, will he continue to improve?
His progression wasn’t noticed until the final stages of the regular season, and was amplified by “The Shift” in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Lets relive it in all its glory…
Hopefully the new contract and job security don’t impede Orpik’s path to fulfilling his potential.
Either way, at his worst he is still quite a capable defenseman and I expect him to continue to improve upon last season.
Gill – Letang
The return of Hall Gill and Kris Letang playing together is something I expect to see and am highly looking forward to.
Just like Gonchar and Orpik, Gill and Letang are a nice combination of playing styles.
The big-bodied Gill brings toughness and grit to the ice. However, he is a bit of a tree when it comes to hanging with speedy wingers.
Letang has more speed, and will be able to back Gill up in a jam. Along with his speed, Letang exemplified how well he can play defensively in the playoffs. He knows how to throw his body around and isn’t afraid to battle along the boards.
Letang also has offensive skills that are better than many forwards in the NHL. He should continue to help the team in the shootout, as well as sneak back door from the point like we saw Ryan Whitney do so often two years ago.
Scuderi – Whitney
Seeing a pattern yet?
Offense and defense combine again for the last pairing.
Scuderi is a very underrated defenseman. He is rarely out of position, and sacrifices his entire body to make a play.
The kid just blocks shots.
His partner is the question mark of the defense.
Ryan Whitney has too much potential to be scratched. However, with Mark Eaton waiting for playing time Whitney is going to have to show he is the same player he was two years ago. That is if he wants to stay in the lineup.
As last season wore down, he wasn’t scoring, nor was he playing solid defense. Seeing Whitney as a winger was something none of us want to see again.
I’m sure most Pens fans want to see Whitney succeed. He has displayed tremendous talent and potential, and should be manning the blue line during the power play – not on the third line’s right wing.
The odd men out are Darryl Sydor and Eaton.
The Pens would be wise to somehow find a way to trade Sydor. There is no man that he should be starting in place of, and $2.5 million is far to much to be paying for a routine healthy scratch.
There has been some talk of Sydor being traded, but it seems that his price is too high for most teams.
As for Eaton, he will see time in ’09. His injury woes have gotten in the way of what could turn out to be another Scuderi-type defenseman. If he stays healthy, Eaton might just find himself a starter.
Again, these are my opinions. I’m not a defensive expert, so if you think I’m a moron well then let me know.
In the next few days I will be previewing special teams, as well as the day-by-day transactions around the league.