I'm sure this is no revelation, but the Pens defense will be the big X-factor for their success. I believe and have believed since the signing that picking up Vokoun is HUGE! Especially in a short season like this, having a tandem of this caliber can't be understated enough.
Is this really a trial year? The Penguins have so many questions marks and I have a feeling we will see lots of shifts in the pairings. Player by player:
Orpik - I've been down on him since half way through last season. I don't know where I stand with him because I don't know what caused his serious decline in play. I know his stats show otherwise, but he was pretty horrible. He became this stereo-typical physical dman who goes for the big hit rather than the smart play. I always felt that his physical condition played a big role in his poor play. He came back too early from an injury, plain and simple. He probably was never 100%. I think this season shows whether or not his simply an aging player on the decline or just a victim of injuries.
Martin - I've obviously been no fan of his part way through last season. Before that, I really went to bat for him more than a few times. I never like to condemn a player for a handful of bad games. I think was horrible, but the fact remains he WAS one of the premier positional defensemen in the league. While I may jump in or even initiate some Martin-hate-talk, I really hope he returns to form...it only helps.
Niskanen - Is he a #1 pairing dman? IMO he isn't, but he could be a good compliment to Letang. Letang may not be a shut-down guy, but he's as physical as they come, solid positionally and great on the transition. So what can a guy like Niskanen bring to a player like that? If he plays responsible hockey, he could really let Letang do his thing and just fill in the holes while adding some ability on the transition. But again, is he a #1 guy?
Letang - Not enough can be said and I'll keep it short. He is the Pens' #1 Dman and I foresee a very solid season.
Engelland - Still a fan of his and I still think he gets not only a bad rap sometimes, but I believe some of his skills are overlooked. IMO he's an ideal 6th/7th dman and I expect a solid season.
Despres - Can't really say too much since I couldn't view his develeopment, but I think we're going to see him moved around the line-up quite a bit to see where he fits. I just hope nobody is expecting him to be Drew Doughty out of the gate. He's going to have some really great games and some really bad games...it's all part of the learning curve. From everything I read though, I feel like there's a sense of urgency to rush him in.
Lovejoy - I think he's going to be a stand-out. Nothing to back that up, but just a hunch. I think he has all the attributes to be a solid player and could chase some guys out of the line-up.
Bortuzzo - I leave for him for last because again, I've never seen him play in WBS or in camp, but from everything I've read I almost think it's a mistake to put Despres over Bortuzzo. This isn't because I think Bortuzzo is/will be better than Despres, they're very different players, but it seems that Bortuzzo is more "ready" to make the jump. Also, there shouldn't be a rush on Despres, we already have guys who play his style; he can take another season, but a cup of coffee with the Pens wouldn't hurt. I digress, Bortuzzo is a type of player we need more than another Offense/2-way style dman. We need a shut-down guy.
The Pens defense, as it's been over the past few years looks good on paper. Stellar? No, not stellar, but solid. Solid is all you really need to win a cup. If Orpik and Martin bring their best, I see this defense being more than solid. It's really going to come down to who shows their best and plays the "system."