Penguins Vs. Canucks: Pens Open The Season On The Road At Vancouver

Even sans Sidney Crosby, who remains sidelined while dealing with post-concussion syndrome, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks are two of the NHL's marquee teams, and should provide an entertaining match up for even the most casual of late night hockey fans.

The Canucks, last year's Stanley Cup runners-up, the most inglorious of honors, boast arguably the most cohesive and dangerous top line in hockey in Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows.

In 2010-11, Daniel led the NHL in scoring with 104 points, and Henrik finished fourth with 94. Daniel is clearly the line's trigger man, scoring 41 goals last year (a typical output for him) while Henrik hit 75 assists. Burrows fulfills the pest role for the trio, antagonizing opponents and amassing penalty minutes, while possessing the skill to be a legitimate 30-goal threat each season.

The Canucks' second line will be considerably less dangerous in the absence of Ryan Kesler. One of the top two-way centers in the NHL, Kesler is out while recovering from off-season hip surgery. Skating in his place is Cody Hodgson, the Canucks' 2008 first round pick.

While the forward lines are balanced and possess suitable flash, the Vancouver club's real strength lies in defense. Two-way defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who scored 50 points last season, has left for Buffalo and no real replacement was signed to take his place.

But that's okay. The Canucks boast depth in defense and serious skill when the unit is at full health. The team was very careful with Dan Hamhuis in the preseason while he recovered from surgery, but the injury-plagued defenseman looks likely to play in tonight's opener. Sami Salo is one of the more under-appreciated defensemen in the NHL due to his brittle nature. While healthy, he possesses the size, skill and shot to give the Penguins trouble.

In net is Roberto Luongo, a goaltender guilty of being brilliant in stretches, and horrendous for equally long spells. He is the Canucks' clear starter entering the season, but it would be of little surprise if talented backup Cory Schneider challenges him for the top spot by the end of the campaign.

Evgeni Malkin will be the man of the hour for the Penguins. Though speculation that Malkin entered the season with a renewed vigor has been rife for some time, Rob Rossi's column earlier in the week seemed to put that fact beyond speculation, with Malkin confirming as much himself.

"I hope people understand this is (a) new me," Malkin said. "I've changed my workouts because maybe I was lazy before. Maybe I just played hockey, and that (was) good enough, but (there) is more for me to do.

"My motivation now is very good."

While Crosby and Dustin Jeffrey are still obviously out, a question mark remains in Brooks Orpik. Earlier in the week, Orpik said that he had hoped to skate in the opener, but judging from today's report via the Penguins official website, he looks likely to remain in the press box at game time.

Joining him should be Richard Parkwho seems to be the odd man out amongst the Penguins forwards.

The game will be nationally televised on Versus, and is scheduled to start at 10:00.

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