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Mario On The March

Just as the movie industry has been surprised by the unexpected hit March of the Penguins, hockey fans might be surprised at the march of the Pittsburgh Penguins this coming season. The new CBA has allowed many small market teams to pick up top-drawer talent, but the Penguins seem to have a plan in place to compete right away in the "new" NHL.

The headline grabber, of course, was when they lucked out and landed Sidney Crosby with the top pick in the draft, but since then their free agency pickups point to a desire to surround Crosby with high-powered offensive talent, which will not only help the rookie's development, but should put some fannies in the seats, which Pittsburgh sorely needs after its awful 2003-4 campaign. The first step in launching the offense is get the puck moving out of your own zone, and few do it better than Sergei Gonchar, who was Pittsburgh's first big acquisition this month. Over the weekend, they also added Ziggy Palffy, who is a legitimate scoring title threat. Combine that with a Mario Lemiuex who has had plenty of time to heal, and you've got the makings of a league-leading power play. Perhaps there is no greater sign of Lemieux's optimism for the team is his retention of majority ownership in the Penguins, when it was expected that he and his group would sell out majority rights to an outside investor.

One addition which snuck under the radar, however, is Mark Recchi, who returned to the Pens by signing a multi-year contract in July of 2004, after the last regular season and before the lockout. So that means Pittsburgh has added Crosby, Palffy, Gonchar and Recchi to the squad. There is still much to be done before Pittsburgh challenges for Eastern Conference supremacy, but at the very least the Penguins will put a competitive, entertaining team on the ice this season.