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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010
 

Three names to think about before anybody buries the Stanley Cup champions: Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa and Bill Guerin.

General manager Ray Shero acquired those players at the last three NHL trade deadlines, and each acquisition greatly improved the Penguins. Roberts' veteran savvy and toughness steeled a young club to finish its playoff push. Hossa teamed with center Sidney Crosby to help steer the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final, and Guerin's leadership and guile helped Crosby captain them to the Cup last year.

The Penguins, regulation losers in 10 of their past 16, will play 11 games before the NHL trade deadline March 3. Shero will have near $1 million in pro-rated cap space to improve. He might need every last dime to give his champs a shot at repeating.

A deeper look at the Penguins season to date reveals four legitimate concerns beyond their struggles from the last month:

LACK OF URGENCY

A defending champion can be forgiven for not treating every regular-season game like a Game 7. Still, the Penguins have lost at home to Minnesota, Carolina and Toronto, and were downed at Florida, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Chances are four of those five teams will miss the playoffs, and Carolina and Toronto will contend for the worst record.

NET-FRONT NEEDED

The power play that has hovered around 15 percent all season has many problems, but one that must be addressed is finding a net-front presence. Since traffic-causing winger Ryan Malone was traded in July 2008 the Penguins have scored 96 power-play goals in 134 games. They netted 77 in Malone's final season.

MILD WINGS

Centers Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal combine to count for 59.1 percent of roughly $32 million the Penguins have designated for forwards against the $56.8 million salary cap. Crosby, Malkin and Staal have combined to score 46 percent of the Penguins' 137 goals from forwards, compared to only 40.7 percent last season. The Penguins' biggest advantage — three elite centers — seemingly will need to carry them this season even more than last if a Cup run is in the cards.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

The Penguins have played 15 games against teams I'd label Cup contenders, but I'll throw out a loss at Vancouver given their goaltending situation in that contest. However, they are 5-8-1 against New Jersey (0-3), Philadelphia (3-1), Buffalo (1-1), Chicago (0-0-1), San Jose (0-1), Boston (1-1) and Washington (0-1).

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