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By Michael Rushton, Contributing NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - The Pittsburgh Penguins' 2005-06 season can basically be summed up in just two words: Sidney Crosby.

One word you wouldn't throw in there is disappointing.

Anointed the golden boy of the league and franchise savior, Crosby certainly delivered last season for the Penguins, at least in a numbers sense. The Calder Trophy runner-up became the youngest player in NHL history to record 100 points (39 goals and 63 assists for 102 points) and when all is said and done, could be remembered as one of the league's best players ever not to earn top rookie honors.

However, Crosby was unable to single-handily lift the Penguins from the depths of the East as the squad finished last in the conference with 58 points.

What doomed the Penguins last season was a supporting cast as weak as a high school production of "Macbeth." Pittsburgh's second leading scorer was defenseman Sergei Gonchar (58 points) while forwards John LeClair and Ryan Malone each trailed Crosby in goals with 22.

So changes once again had to be made and it started at the top. Out as general manager is Hall of Fame executive Craig Patrick and in is Ray Shero. Also, Michel Therrien will begin the season as head coach after replacing Eddie Olczyk last December.

And some guy named Mario Lemieux retired (again) as a player from the team and stepped down as CEO last year as well.

One thing Pittsburgh does have going is its power play, which is where individual stars like Crosby can shine with more ice room. The Penguins ranked sixth in the NHL last season at 16 percent and return both of their point men from last season, Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

On the flip side, though, the Penguins ranked dead last in defense last year and 29th in penalty killing. The only upgrade Pittsburgh made at the blue line was the addition of free agent Mark Eaton, so it will be up to Therrien to install a system that works with these pieces.

FORWARDS - The biggest addition made in the offseason to upgrade Crosby's supporting staff was the signing of 2004 first-round pick center Evgeni Malkin. Malkin actually had to sneak away from his Russian Super League team, the Metallurg Magnitogorsk, to join the Penguins but is now under contract and is seemingly ready to go.

Before officially joining the Penguins, Malkin had the distinction of holding the title of "best player currently not playing in the NHL" and made sure the world knew that when he netted two goals and four assists in seven games for Russia's 2006 Winter Olympics squad.

Combined with Crosby, the duo gives the Penguins arguably one of the most talented 1-2 punches at center in the league. Even more scary, both players are still under 21-years-old.

Oh, and by the way, the Penguins also snared another talented center in Jordan Staal -- Eric's brother --with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft.

Despite some offensive success last year, the Penguins added a number of new forwards, including Jarkko Ruutu and Nils Ekman while also bringing back Mark Recchi.

Recchi began last season with the Penguins, but was mercifully shipped to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. Recchi had 24 goals and 33 assists in 63 games before the trade and once again will serve as a veteran compliment to Crosby.

Ekman and his 21 goals last season in San Jose where a nice addition and Pittsburgh will look to squeeze one more solid year out of the 37-year-old LeClair. Expected to join Crosby on the first line is third-year forward Ryan Malone and youngster Colby Armstrong.

DEFENSE - Looks like another busy year for the red-light operator in Pittsburgh.

Besides Eaton, the Penguins made no significant upgrades to a defense that was one of the poorest in the league last season.

Gonchar and Whitney will anchor Pittsburgh's top defensive pairing while Brooks Orpik joins Eaton as defenders No. 3 and 4. One wild card at the blue line is 2001 second-round choice Noah Welch, who may be finally ready to play in the NHL full-time. Welch put together a fine American Hockey League campaign and even managed four points in five NHL games last year.

However, the Penguins still lack the necessary talent to defend and now that they have solidified their offense with youth, will most certainly concentrate their resources on building up their defense for the next few years.

GOALTENDING - Marc-Andre Fleury enters the season as the Penguins top goaltender just one year after beginning the season in the AHL.

This is a big year for Fleury as the 21-year-old will look to solidify himself between the pipes for the Penguins for years to come. He will, though, need to improve on his NHL numbers from last year, not so much the 27 losses but the 3.25 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.

No one will be rooting for Fleury -- the first overall pick in 2003 -- harder than the Penguins, who would hate to have to turn back to free-agent flop Jocelyn Thibault. Thibault was brought in to give Fleury as much time as he needed to develop, but struggled to a 1-9 record in 16 games with an eye- popping 4.46 GAA. Though one must wonder how much that was affected by Pittsburgh's poor defense.
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