The Pittsburgh Penguins finished first in their division last season. However, they sadly lost to the New York Islanders in the first round. They’ve had quite a few subtractions from their team, with Brandon Tanev being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, Jared McCann being traded to Toronto Maple Leafs, and several other players. However, they have players such as Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust, Brock McGinn, Danton Heinen, and others to make up for the losses.
It’s not going to be easy going back to the Metropolitan division, especially with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both out for the start of the season. However, Crosby will only miss a few weeks, whereas Malkin will miss at least the first two months. As long as Crosby is not out for long, things will be much better for the Penguins. Facing a division in which the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Islanders are a part of, will ensure it’s a fight to the end for a playoff bid.
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Their powerplay last season was excellent at 23.7 percent, which was fourth in the league, and they were able to knock in 196 goals. However, with both Crosby and Malkin out, other players will have to step in and keep the team moving forward. Players such as Jeff Carter, Jake Guentzel, and other forwards will need to be at their best to make up for the loss of Pittsburgh’s top two centers. Guentzel has a good track record of playing well with whatever center they pair him with. That will be needed now more than ever. Carter and Kasperi Kapanen appeared to fit nicely on a line together last season, so hopefully, we’ll see that continue into this season.
The Penguins should have Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang as their top pairing. Pierre-Olivier Joseph has shown promise as a young talent and will eventually find his niche in the organization. John Marino is a decent two-way defenseman, but there’s still room for improvement. Overall, the Penguins’ blue line is looking good, and they’ll need to help out their goaltenders more whenever possible. Last season they allowed 156 goals, which placed them at 13th in the league, but their penalty kill was at 77.4 percent, which was 27th overall. If they’re going to make it further into the playoffs than the first round, their defense will need to stop the puck and work on their penalty kill.
Tristan Jarry performed well during the regular season but struggled in the playoffs against the Islanders. However, the Penguins decided to bring him and Casey DeSmith back as their goaltending duo this season. DeSmith did perform better last season than Jarry, which leaves questions going into the season. They have a new goalie coach, Andy Chiodo, and hopefully, he’ll be able to get both goaltenders where they need to be for the team.
Guentzel was second on the team in points behind Crosby with 57 points in 56 games. In the absence of Crosby at the beginning of the season, he’ll need to step up and fill that role for a few weeks. Whatever line he’s on, he may have to carry that line, depending on how coach Mike Sullivan arranges his lines.
The Penguins need him to play at a higher level than last season. They need for the Jarry that showed up for the playoffs to stay well away from the season. If he doesn’t perform as well or better than last season, DeSmith might be called in to take over. There are too many questions around Jarry’s possible performance, but the team appears to have confidence in him. Let’s hope that it’s not misplaced.
Biggest Question Facing the Penguins
The main question surrounding the Penguins is about making it back into the playoffs. The honest answer is maybe. The fans will, of course, say they should. However, they will need to start the season strong, or they will have to make up for it later in the season. The playoffs are calling their name; it’s just a matter of following the path that will get them there.
The Penguins should finish as one of the top four teams in the Metro Division. As long as their season doesn’t go sideways, expect to see them in the playoffs. It’s highly doubtful they’ll win the Metro, but stranger things have happened during a season. Despite losing players to the expansion draft and free agency, they’ve done their best to fill those roles with players who have similar talent levels. They have a lot to prove this season, but with so many things going against them, one might wonder if that hole is a little too deep to get out of.
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