NHL Pittsburgh Penguins

5 Pittsburgh Penguins That Must Step Up During 2013-14 Season

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5 Pittsburgh Penguins Players Who Need To Step Up In 2013-14 Season

Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tale of two seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were one of the best teams in the NHL, finishing only behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the standings as the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Sidney Crosby was enjoying a magical season, and was well on his way to blowing through the competition and winning the MVP award and scoring title. The Penguins put together one of the best collection of players that any team had ever put together at the trade deadline, including adding a future Hall of Famer.

It seemed like it was destiny for the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history, but an errant Brooks Orpik slap shot and yet another franchise goaltender’s playoff meltdown later, the Penguins found themselves watching the Stanley Cup Final from their living rooms.

So what went wrong? That is an issue all by itself. Goaltending struggles would have kept the Penguins from winning the Cup no matter what, but the two goals scored in four games in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins did them in.

Through several lucrative deals, the core of this team will remain together for the foreseeable future, but is that necessarily a good thing? Year after year, the same players have produced nothing but letdowns when the games mattered.

To make sure that this season isn’t a repeat of last year, here are the five players that need to step up the most for the Penguins in the 2013-14 season.

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5. Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby
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It’s hard to justify putting the best player in the world on this list and maybe it isn’t fair, but captain Crosby needs to have an injury-free season if the Penguins are to win another Cup. Crosby was on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career, but when the time came for him to come through for his team, he was nowhere to be seen. Crosby doesn’t have to step up in the regular season; he has nothing left to prove in that regard. However, he has to step up in the postseason when it counts. You can argue that during the Penguins' Cup-winning season, he was the third best center on that team behind Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

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4. Kris Letang

Kris Letang
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A common theme between Crosby and Kris Letang is that they both had strong regular seasons, only to completely flunk during the playoffs. Letang earned his first-ever Norris Trophy nomination, an award most believe he can still win, but he must improve his craft in the own end of the ice. Letang benefits from playing with some of the best forwards in the league, so he tallies points even when he doesn’t create the play himself. The pressure will be on him to round out his game and earn the contract that made him one of the highest paid defenseman in the NHL in terms of annual average salary.

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3. Pascal Dupuis

Pascal Dupuis
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Pascal Dupuis is coming off a career year that most Penguins fans thought put his price tag at least a shelf too high for Ray Shero to reach, but the crafty GM used Matt Cooke’s head to climb up and sign Dupuis to a four-year, $15 million contract. Along with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, Dupuis is a part of arguably the best line in all of hockey, and when they are clicking on all cylinders, there is no doubt. The Penguins are banking a lot on a player who had his career year in his mid-30s, sacrificing a lot of cap room that could have been used on younger players in the next few years (Beau Bennett and Simon Despres). So, Dupuis will need to step up and show last year was no fluke and that he can play out his contract at his current level.

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2. Brandon Sutter

Brandon Sutter
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With Crosby and Malkin manning a team's top two lines, their third line center isn’t likely to be as talked about. That’s why Staal decided not to sign long-term with the Penguins, and that is why they will probably never have another third-line center like Staal again. Brandon Sutter can be close to that, if he can just find that vast potential and consistently display it. That is the one aspect of Sutter’s game that he struggles in. If he can play to his skill set on a regular basis and the Penguins find some wingers for him, he can be a good enough force on the third line to compliment Crosby and Malkin’s high-octane scoring machine that is the top six.

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1. Marc-Andre Fleury

Marc Andre Fleury
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Is this any surprise here? For all of the firepower the Penguins have up front, the puck stops with Marc-Andre Fleury. If Fleury can finally solve his postseason blues, the Penguins will have one of the game’s top goaltenders. Time is running out for Fleury, as another off season could make him a compliance buyout candidate or see him finish his tenure in Pittsburgh as Tomas Vokoun’s backup. Talent has never been a problem for Fleury. He has more raw talent than any goalie in the league; it has been a matter of confidence, and keeping it all together and not let the ‘quicksand’ effect affect him.