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Do the Penguins have what it takes to light the lamp?

| Friday, Oct. 2, 2009

Upon first glance, the next sentence might seem absurd.

Dan Bylsma spent many of his initial days last February as Penguins interim head coach teaching his players how to create offense.

Think about that for a few minutes.

The Penguins, who will open the final season at Mellon Arena tonight against the New York Rangers as defending Stanley Cup champions, are steered by centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, each former NHL scoring champions, and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who until an injury-shortened season last year was the second-leading scorer at his position during this decade.

Bylsma could have strolled onto a filming stage, pulled aside director Michael Bay and advised him on ways to create special-effects explosions in a movie -- and it wouldn't have seemed any less strange.

Only two NHL teams this decade have scored at least 300 goals in a single season.* A deeper look at the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators:
10 to 15 GOAL PLAYERS 3 2
16 to 25 GOAL PLAYERS 6 8
26 to 35 GOAL PLAYERS 2 0
36 to 45 GOAL PLAYERS 2 1
Source: NHL Guide & Record Book;
*Total does not reflect goals awarded to team for shootout victories dating to 2005-06 season.

Of course, the strangest part of this tale is that it was necessary. Even with averaging 33 shots per game under Bylsma last season, the Penguins finished 19th in the league with an 82-game average of 29 shots per.

"It seemed we were getting a lot more chances, creating a lot more havoc around the net," left wing Matt Cooke said of Bylsma's earliest days with the Penguins. "This coaching staff is teaching how to create a scoring chance when it's not clean. When it's 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 and you go down and intentionally snap (a shot) off the (goalie's) pads knowing that your teammate has a pretty good chance of being the first on that rebound ... It's a whole other mindset."

It's a mindset that players embraced quickly. It's a mindset that, as much as trades to acquire wingers Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, fueled the Penguins' 18-3-4 finish under Bylsma - a stretch in which they averaged 3.64 goals, a pace that over the course of an 82-game regular season would lead to 298 markers.

This begs the question: Can these Penguins become on the third team this decade to hit the 300-goal plateau?

The likely answer is no, or as Malkin said: "That would be a lot."

A look at the highest-scoring teams in the NHL since the Edmonton Oilers recorded the last of five consecutive 400-plus goal seasons in 1985-86:
1987-88 Flames 397 Lost division final
1988-89 Kings 376 Lost division final
1986-87 Oilers 372 Won Stanley Cup
1992-93 Red Wings 369 Lost division semifinal
1992-93 Penguins 367 Lost division final
1987-88 Oilers 363 Won Stanley Cup
1995-96 Penguins 362 Lost conference final
1988-89 Flames 354 Won Stanley Cup
1992-93 Nordiques 351 Lost division semifinal
1989-90 Flames 348 Lost division semifinal
Notables: 80-game schedule from 1974-75 through 1991-92; 84-game schedule played from 1992-93 through 1993-94; 82-game scheduled played from 1995-96 through current.
Source: NHL Guide & Record book

Malkin paced the Penguins with 35 goals last season. Crosby rated second with 33. Third was right wing Petr Sykora, whose 25 goals were not enough to keep him with the club.

The Penguins finished sixth in the league with 258 goals, but only seven players finished with 15 or more markers - and two, Sykora and Miroslav Satan, are no longer with the club.

Even a full season with Guerin (averaging 23 goals since the 2004-05 lockout), Kunitz (averaging 22 over that same span) and a return to form by Gonchar (13 goals on average in three season with the Penguins before last season) probably wouldn't get the Penguins near 300.

The Red Wings finished last season with 289 goals from a roster that included one player with 40, three in the 30s, five with 14 or more and 11 overall in double digits. The Bruins' 270 goals, second only to the Red Wings' total, came from a 30-goal guy and five players in the 20s.

"Aside from sick depth, to hit 300 you need a lot of things to go in your favor - big nights, lucky bounces, a great power play for long stretches, a lot of things," Penguins winger Craig Adams said. "If you look at our team, we have our three great centers and a deep top three lines. But even with that, I'm not sure you get to 300 goals."

Jordan Staal, who along with Crosby and Malkin comprises the Penguins' unmatched trio of centers, does not dismiss the possibility of 300 goals for his team, but he did urge against expecting that number.

"How close did we come my rookie season?" he said.

Three years ago he, Crosby and Malkin combined for 98 goals on a Penguins' roster that produced 11 players to score at least 10, and that team provided just 267 goals.

"So, we had less than that last year, and nobody else in the league scored 300 goals, either," Staal said. "That proves my point. It's really hard. When was the last time any team here came close?"

The only Penguins team this decade, three of which produced individual scoring champions, to come within long-range shooting distance of 300 goals was the 2000-01 squad that totaled 281 - with 67.6 percent of its scoring coming from five players: Jaromir Jagr (52), Alex Kovalev (44), Mario Lemieux (35), Robert Lang (32) and Martin Straka (27).

"That's a pretty deep group," Penguins winger Ruslan Fedotenko said. "If you look at our team, maybe 'Geno' is the one guy that can put up a huge number of goals, and we could have a lot of guys get good totals, like between 25 and 30. Even that's not easy, though. You need guys to stay healthy, and not too many guys can have down years."

So, the question remains: Can these Penguins join the Red Wings and Senators of 2005-06 as teams to score 300 goals this decade?

"Maybe," Malkin said. "It would be fun. Everybody likes scoring.

"Everybody wants another Cup more."

Meet the Penguins


• Sidney Crosby

Strength: Finest playmaker in hockey, has lived up to hype

Needs to improve: Scoring more power play goals

Fast fact: Has never scored a shorthanded goal in NHL career

• Evgeni Malkin

Strength: Hockey's most complete offensive player

Needs to improve: Abysmal faceoff numbers

Fast fact: Has scored 24 goals in last two postseasons

• Jordan Staal

Strength: A gigantic, shutdown defensive center

Needs to improve: Inconsistent offense

Fast fact: At 21, has played 294 NHL games

• Mike Rupp

Strength: Big body, plenty of experience

Needs to improve: Limited offense

Fast fact: Had career-high 136 penalty minutes last season


• Chris Bourque

Strength: Blazing speed

Needs to improve: Prove he can score at NHL level

Fast fact: Acquired from Washington on waivers this week

• Bill Guerin

Strength: Team leader; still has goal-scoring touch

Needs to improve: Declining goal numbers over past three seasons

Fast fact: Has 408 career goals

• Chris Kunitz

Strength: Physical, well-rounded player

Needs to improve: Lengthy goal droughts

Fast fact: Scored only one goal in last season's playoffs

• Ruslan Fedotenko

Strength: Clutch playoff performer

Needs to improve: Regular season goal-scoring

Fast fact: Has scored 20 career playoff goals in 71 games

• Max Talbot

Strength: Knack for playing well in biggest games

Needs to improve: Occasional goal-scoring droughts

Fast fact: Won't play for a couple of months because of shoulder injury

• Tyler Kennedy

Strength: Crafty and speedy, could score 20 goals

Needs to improve: Playmaking ability

Fast fact: Scored game-winning goal in Game 6 against Detroit

• Matt Cooke

Strength: One of team's most physical players

Needs to improve: Avoiding bad penalties

Fast fact: Has 14 career game-winning goals

• Pascal Dupuis

Strength: Fast, good penalty-killer

Needs to improve: Inconsistent scoring

Fast fact: His fifth goal this season will give him 100 career NHL goals

• Craig Adams

Strength: Experienced, solid defensive player

Needs to improve: Offensive production

Fast fact: Scored in series-clinching wins over Washington and Carolina

• Eric Godard

Strength: One of league's most feared fighters

Needs to improve: Play in defensive zone

Fast fact: Has amassed 652 penalty minutes in 271 NHL games


• Sergei Gonchar

Strength: Among greatest offensive defenseman of his generation

Needs to improve: Historically poor start to season

Fast fact: Has produced 333 career power-play points

• Brooks Orpik

Strength: Fierce competitor, huge hitter

Needs to improve: His work on second power-play unit

Fast fact: Is plus-22 over past two seasons

• Kris Letang

Strength: Blossoming star at both ends of rink

Needs to improve: Being more aggressive on power play

Fast fact: Scored 13 points in 23 playoff games last year

• Mark Eaton

Strength: Classy, solid defender

Needs to improve: Penalty killing in 5-on-3 situations

Fast fact: Scored four playoff goals last spring

• Alex Goligoski

Strength: Outstanding offensive instincts

Needs to improve: Work in defensive zone

Fast fact: Had first career two-goal game last year in Buffalo

• Jay McKee

Strength: World class shot-blocker, good penalty-killer

Needs to improve: Ability to stay healthy

Fast fact: Has never played full 82-game schedule

• Martin Skoula

Strength: Veteran has appeared in 724 NHL games

Needs to improve: Fading plus-minus numbers

Fast fact: Is a minus-28 over past two seasons


• Marc-Andre Fleury

Strength: He is among game's best big-game goalies

Needs to improve: Always adventurous puck-handling

Fast fact: NHL career stats at 24: 111 wins, 31 playoff wins

• Brent Johnson

Strength: Steady, reliable backup

Needs to improve: Shaky health problems

Fast fact: Won 34 games for St. Louis in 2001-02 season

By Josh Yohe

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