MARCH of the PENGUINS(C. Smith, JR)

Let me get this straight. Mario Lemieux is returning to the Pittsburgh Penguins as a player this season. These same Penguins also hit the proverbial Jackpot in winning the lottery and selecting Sidney Crosby…the can’t – miss kid. Scary enough to think of Lemieux on the same sheet of Ice with a young player who’s been compared to Wayne Gretzky….by Wayne Gretzky. The Penguins then signed a great puck-moving defenseman in Sergei Gonchar; followed by the signing of an under-rated offensive force from Slovakia by the name of Ziggy Palffy not to mention the return of ageless winger Mark Recchi. Being on the west coast, I’d had visions of watching Ziggy P. on a line with Pavol Demitra and Alexander Frolov while skating with the Los Angeles Kings, but seldom do I get what I want.
In sizing up the balance of power in the Eastern Conference, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning will still be tough, but have lost the man between the pipes – goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin who took the money and ran to Chicago. The Philadelphia Flyers who were felled by the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern conference finals in 2004 have also revamped. Gone are star forwards Tony Amonte, John Leclair, Alexei Zhamnov, Jeremy Roenick and Mark Recchi. Superstar forward Peter Forsberg is headed to Philly, but we’ll have to wait and see how he adapts after having played so many years in the free-flowing offensively minded system of the Colorado Avalanche. Despite the NHL’s rule changes to add more flow and speed to the game, Philly has also chosen to go with big not-quite-so-mobile defensemen Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje and Chris Therien to anchor the blue line in a game that seems to be changing to favor quicker players……hmmm…again, we’ll just have to wait and see, It does appear as though smooth skating defensemen Eric Desjardins, Kim Jonsson and Joni Pitkanen will return to the Flyers.
The Penguins indeed seem ready to seize the moment in the wide open Eastern conference. The NHL seems to be committed to creating a more free-flowing game, that said, you can just imagine how many odd-man rushes Pittsburghers can expect, not to mention how many extra points they’ll pick up during shoot-outs. It’s gotta be more than just coincidence the movie “March of the Peguins” recently opened. Just imagine a Power Play with Lemieux, Crosby, Palffy and Recchi along with Gonchar quarterbacking from the blue line….to quote the great Penguins’ announcer Mike Lange, “Well scratch my back with a hacksaw”…… See ya’

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