In what was a slow moving offseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins, camp is sure bringing on some serious excitement. In the very first practice, Sidney Crosby was given a standing ovation before he even hit the ice.
The Penguins had placed a camera in the runway leading to the bench. As soon as Crosby came into view, the arena erupted. In his typical style, Sid did not want to be singled out from the team. Instead of wearing a typical red jersey for no contact, Sid decided to wear a white helmet while everyone wore a black one. Sid was therefore able to skate at full speed and practice the entire time. His skill set was exactly where everyone expected it to be and his speed was fantastic.
In other news, Evgeni Malkin’s knee has healed up perfectly. He has looked strong on his skates and his power moves are back to normal. In practice, Malkin has looked strong and in game 1 of the pre-season against the Red Wings, he was able to execute his typical game plan. His strong skating and quick burst of speed show that Geno is ready for the season.
In a recent interview, Malkin stated that he doesn’t just want to get back, he is adement on becoming a top five player in the league once again. This mindset is one that the penguins expected, and matched with his relentless work ethic, it is becoming clear that Malkin is ready to play at a top level this season.
The other member of the Penguins trifecta, Jordan Staal, is continuing his growth towards becoming a better all-around player. In camp so far, we have seen Staal play with a few different wingers, but his style hasn’t changed. The biggest difference this season is his speed. Typically a slower player that excels in positioning and reach, Staal has greatly improved on his speed and skating ability. While Malkin looks to return to form, Staal is looking to reach new heights in his game.
Other standouts in camp this season include James Neal and first round draft pick Joe Morrow. Neal has created chemistry with his new center Malkin. Although he is set to play with Crosby once Sid is able to return, Neal is getting much needed time with a top line center. His speed and physicality key in perfectly with the game plan that the Penguins have for him.
On the other hand, Joe Morrow has shown great potential. His speed, puck handling, and vision are much more than anyone expected. The 18-year-old defensemen is looking as if he can already play at an NHL level and has quickly shot up this writer's list as the Pens' top prospect.
In injury news, defenseman Brooks Orpik is still recovering from sports hernia surgery, but has been able to practice. Matt Cooke’s problem with reckless hitting seems to be taking a back seat in his game. His offseason consisted of sports physocolgy visits and working with the coaches to make his game cleaner and more effective. For the Penguins' sake, as well as Cooke's and the rest of the league's, it's really important that these apparent changes stick. As a player mostly known for his dirty hits, Cooke’s game of strong fore-check and great penalty killing are crucial to the Penguins success.
Finally, the Penguins have won both of their preseason games and the team looks to be stronger than last season. It's still early, but being one of the early favorites for the East and the Stanley Cup hasn’t put any unneeded pressure on this club. Jacks Adams award winner Dan Bylsma has his team ready for the season and looking strong so far this camp.
In other news - I would like to congratulate Mike Modano on an amazing career and retiring as a Dallas Star. He is sure to be a first ballot hall of famer and retires as arguably the best American born player in NHL history.
As for the tragedies this offseason my condolences go out to the families of the Lokamotiv hockey club, the Rypein family, Boogard family, and the Belak family. May they all be remembered for their great attitude and support of their communities, as well as being part of the greatest game on earth.