ShareThis Page

Penguins captain's 9th season begins with club battling expectations

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 10:57 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby tips the puck to himself during a scrimmage on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Sidney Crosby sees time flashing before his eyes.

The Penguins open against New Jersey at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night, the beginning of their captain's ninth NHL season.

His goal — and the method for achieving it — remains the same as it was since his debut Oct. 5, 2005, at New Jersey.

Indeed, he thought about the Stanley Cup even then.

“You have to have it in mind,” Crosby said, “but you're not going to win the Cup (Thursday) night.

“Early in the season, I think work ethic is the biggest thing. As a team, you establish that early. I really do think every team is unique, and you have to go through things.”

The Penguins are definitely going through some things.

An injury to Kris Letang (lower body) will lead Olli Maatta to the lineup against the Devils, coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday.

Letang is on the injured reserve list until at least Tuesday, and Bylsma said Maatta is in the NHL to play — at least while Letang is unavailable.

Maatta, 19 and the second of two first-round draft picks in 2012, would start his career in the same building where the Penguins selected him 22nd overall.

Bylsma also said winger Chuck Kobasew, signed Wednesday for $550,000, is likely to play on a third line that will look nothing like it has in past seasons with the offseason departures of wingers Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy.

Kobasew, who arrived a training camp on a professional tryout contract, is a Penguin because of salary-cap space temporarily freed by the placement of backup goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot, out 3-to-4 months) and winger Matt D'Agostini (lower-body injury, out indefinitely) on the long-term injury (LTI) list.

Players on LTI do not count against the NHL's $64.3 million salary cap until their return, but they cannot play for 10 games and 24 days.

The Penguins, who are within about $100,000 of the cap, would have needed to make a trade to sign Kobasew if Vokoun was healthy. Instead, they can delay that move, or potentially avoid it if Vokoun is unable to play in the final season of his contract.

Kobasew practiced Wednesday on a potential third line that consisted of center Brandon Sutter and winger Beau Bennett, who was recalled from Wheeling (ECHL). Bennett was re-assigned Monday as part of a procedural move to provide the Penguins cap flexibility.

Bennett's recall Wednesday coincided with the reassignments of winger Chris Conner and defenseman Harrison Ruopp to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL).

General manager Ray Shero, who anticipated a lengthy absence for Vokoun, was aware of the roster juggling given that this season is the first since 2005-06 that the salary cap is lower than for the previous campaign.

However, at the start of this week, nobody associated with the Penguins figured on the potential absence of right winger James Neal, whose attempt to practice failed Wednesday.

Neal, the regular sniper on center Evgeni Malkin's No. 2 scoring line, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Bylsma said.

The Penguins are again a Cup favorite, but they clearly are not themselves to start their pursuit of a second title since 2009.

“This team isn't last year's team,” Crosby said, referring to a squad that was upset by Boston — swept, actually — in the Eastern Conference final.

“The expectation is there; but if we would have won last year, what would we expect to happen? We'd still expect to win.

“It's easy to say it, though.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.