PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – After a few short months, the waiting game is finally over. Hockey returns to the ‘Burgh tonight as the Penguins kickoff the start of their 2013-14 campaign.
It seems like only yesterday that the Penguins skated off the ice at TD Garden in Boston as the Bruins celebrated a sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If the sting is still too fresh, you’re not alone. I could sit here and rehash everything that went wrong in that series (there’s a lot), but nothing would change. The past is the past and the future is all that matters.
The future begins tonight when the Penguins play host to the New Jersey Devils at CONSOL Energy Center.
Gone are trade deadline acquisitions Jarome Iglina, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke are also wearing new sweaters this season.
There will be an opportunity for guys like Joe Vitale, Dustin Jeffrey and Beau Bennett to make an impact on a nightly basis this season.
In goal, the spotlight will be shining brightly on Marc-Andre Fleury after another shaky performance in the playoffs. While the blame isn’t solely on his shoulders, he knows he wasn’t at his best and he’ll be looking to get off to a hot start this season.
Furthermore, Fleury is going to have to be a workhorse for at least the near future with Tomas Vokoun missing 3 to 6 months after undergoing a procedure to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis.
Jeff Zatkoff will serve as Fleury’s backup to start the season. While he was stellar for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season (26-20, 1.93 GAA, .920 save percentage), he has never played in a regular season game at the NHL level.
Speaking of young players, Olli Maatta could make his NHL debut tonight after an impressive training camp and preseason.
Head coach Dan Bylsma said that Maatta could be seeing game action while Kris Letang is out with a lower-body injury. Letang is currently on injured reserve. Unless he steps in and blows everyone away, it’s likely he will only be up with the Penguins for nine games before being sent back to juniors. The reason is so that the first year of his entry level contract does not kick in.
A somewhat surprising development is that Simon Despres was sent to the Baby Pens after being called a “top four defenseman” by Bylsma after the Boston series.
It remains to be seen how long he will remain in the AHL this season, but it may be tough for him to get back to Pittsburgh. Assuming everyone is healthy and Maatta being sent back to juniors, the Penguins would still have seven NHL defensemen on the roster. Of course, a trade could change all of that, but it seems like a lot needs to happen for Despres at this point.
Despite all the questions about the roster, the Penguins begin the long 82-game grind tonight against a New Jersey team that has seen its fair share of changes as well.
Ilya Kovalchuk is gone. As is Penguin-killer David Clarkson.
The Devils went out this summer and replaced them with Jaromir Jagr. Ryan Clowe and others, but the biggest move of their summer may have come in goal.
At the NHL Draft, the Devils traded their first round pick to Vancouver for Cory Schneider, who is expected to be the goalie of the future for the franchise.
Schneider (17-9-4, 2.11 GAA, .927 save percentage) enjoyed a solid season between the pipes as the Canucks’ starter after earning the job over Roberto Luongo.
He is also expected to get the nod tonight against the Penguins, thus ending a streak of 18 consecutive opening night starts for Martin Brodeur.
Last season, the Penguins were just 1-3 against the Devils.
Fleury will be in goal tonight for the Pens. For his career, he is 15-20-4 with a 2.57 GAA and a .913 save percentage with three shutouts against New jersey.
Regardless of how last season ended and the changes that have taken place since we last saw the Penguins take the ice, a new season is upon us.
More importantly, it’s a full 82 game season and that’s something we can all be happy about.
Now, let’s drop the puck!
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