30 in 30: Potent top of Penguins lineup looks familiar

Thursday, 08.29.2013 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Corey Masisak

It has been four seasons since the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, and each of the past two have ended in shocking fashion. They've fallen behind 3-0 in series they were expected to win after being anointed one of the favorites to win the Cup in each of those regular seasons.
In 2012 it was a wild, defense-optional series against the rival Philadelphia Flyers. In 2013 the offense disappeared against the Boston Bruins.
In 2013-14 the Penguins will again be considered one of the top teams in the NHL. The goals will flow, but a major question in net remains after back-to-back poor postseasons for Marc-Andre Fleury.
The biggest moves of Pittsburgh's offseason were signing Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang each to an eight-year contract extension, and securing Sidney Crosby's linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. There was a bit of a surprise once free agency began: The Penguins were able to retrieve Rob Scuderi after he left for the Los Angeles Kings shortly after Pittsburgh won the Cup in 2009.

All of the big trade acquisitions -- Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray -- were not retained. Two staples on the third line, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, are gone. The additions -- Matt D'Agostini, Andrew Ebbett and Chris Conner -- were low-cost moves because the team is tight against the NHL salary cap.
The expectations remain the same in Pittsburgh: Either NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup to Crosby in June or the season will be viewed as a disappointment.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Penguins:

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Beau Bennett - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Matt D'Agostini
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Dustin Jeffrey
Rob Scuderi - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Brooks Orpik
Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen
Robert Bortuzzo - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Tomas Vokoun
NOTES: Bennett with enter training camp as the favorite to join the five stars in the top six and would most likely fit with Malkin and Neal on the second line. The bottom six could look different without Cooke and Kennedy around, but versatile Jokinen could fit with that group. Jeffrey is another candidate, and the Penguins likely will rotate four players on the fourth line.
Scuderi will enter camp as the favorite to play next to Letang, but Despres could end up in that spot. The Penguins have seven defensemen on one-way contracts plus Despres, so roster places for the touted prospects might not be available. Any of Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington or Brian Dumolin could earn a chance, but Maatta and Pouliot are likely to end up with their junior teams unless there are injuries during camp.
The Penguins will go back to Fleury one more time. He has a new goalie coach, Mike Bales, and just as it was for Fleury in 2012-13, what he accomplishes during the regular season won't dissuade the doubters until he proves capable in the postseason again. Vokoun remains one of the top Plan Bs in the League.