AS THE PENGUINS' players reconvened this September after more than four months apart, coach Dan Bylsma paid close attention to their collective mood. "I feel a sense of unrest," he said, "and it comes from the length of our off-season. There's a feeling that we left something on the table." Pittsburgh's stunning second-round playoff loss to the Canadiens in May came after a steady march (no playoff-series wins in 2007; three in '08; four, including the Stanley Cup finals, in '09) to the top of the NHL. Perhaps, and this is Bylsma's belief, the shock of the Montreal series will ensure his team's unwaning focus as it opens play in the new, luxury-suite-studded, $321 million Consol Energy Center.
At the heart of it all—of the team's mood, of the new building and of the Penguins' continued Stanley Cup hopes—skates captain Sidney Crosby, whose conference-best 51 goals and 109 points last season only begin to illustrate his value to the franchise. (The Consol Center's seating capacity, 18,087, nods at Crosby's number 87 sweater.) The addition of versatile forward Mike Comrie will allow Bylsma to mix his lines (Evgeni Malkin could see nearly as much time at wing as he does at center) while providing a go-to national anthem singer for Pittsburgh's new digs: Comrie married Hilary Duff in August.
The Penguins expect newly acquired Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to shore up the defense in front of goaltender Marc-André Fleury by quickly closing gaps on the ice and getting the puck onto their or their teammates' sticks. "We want to play defense fast," says Bylsma. "If we play defense half a game and offense half a game, that's not good. We want it to be offense 70 percent of the time, defense 30 percent."
The larger goal, which is highly attainable, remains unsaid. "We all see the picture of the Stanley Cup in our dressing room," says Bylsma. "We all know what the picture means."
Peter Laviolette (2nd season)