Penguins off to promising start to 2019 campaign

AP Photo | Penguins forward Jake Guentzel skates in the third period during a game against the Winnipeg Jets at PPG PAINTS Arena on Oct. 8, 2019. Guentzel now has a team-high five goals on the season.

 

AP Photo | Penguins’ forward Jake Guentzel skates in the third period during a game against the Winnipeg Jets at PPG PAINTS Arena on Oct. 8, 2019. Guentzel now has a team-high five goals on the season.

Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer

Oct. 17, 2019

“I didn’t see a point where guys came together as a team. I wonder if it’s because there’s too many guys content with where they’re at in their careers after winning a couple Stanley Cups.”

He added, “Some big decisions will have to be made. Obviously, there will be changes in our team.” 

With cornerstone veterans Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin presumably nearing the end of their respective primes, there has been a sense among fans and pundits that Pittsburgh’s championship window is closing.

Based on the aforementioned remarks and others, the Penguins general manager would seem to agree.

That’s why Rutherford followed through with his April musings and executed major roster moves over the summer.

He began by trading away former first round pick Olli Maatta in mid-June. As July approached, he pulled the trigger on a Phil Kessel deal, shipping the star winger to Arizona.

Additionally, though not Rutherford’s choice, 42-year old Matt Cullen officially retired.

In came the likes of Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev and Dominik Kahun.  

The message behind these transitions is obvious. Pittsburgh wants to reclaim its standing as young, fast, offensively dynamic hockey team.

With the regular season now underway, it’s time to see how these new Penguins look.

So far, the results are relatively promising. The offense underwent the most change, and that’s where the Penguins have been best.

Pittsburgh entered Wednesday’s game leading the NHL in goals scored, with 25. They rank third in goals per game, netting 4.2. 

Sidney Crosby is same old Sidney Crosby. He has twelve points already, tied for third-most in the league.

However, with injuries to core forwards including Malkin, Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust, and Nick Bjugstad, the superstar center has needed some extra help.

Stepping to the plate have been AHL callups Sam Lafferty, Adam Johnson, and Joseph Blandisi. In their brief stints, they’ve posted a combined nine points.  

Lafferty has been promising, scoring three goals in his first four career NHL games.  

The strong performance of these young players is reminiscent of the AHL callups that helped power the Penguins’ back-to-back Cup runs. 

While they likely won’t remain on the NHL roster for the entire year, keep their names in mind as the season continues. 

There’s a good possibility Pittsburgh will need their help again at some point.

While the offense underwent major changes, the defense and goaltending experienced little transition.

Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Marcus Pettersson, and Jack Johnson are all back. The only notable addition is John Marino.

While not among the league’s elite defensive corps, they’ve been serviceable.  

Meanwhile, Matt Murray remains the starting goalie.  

At his best, Murray can keep pace with the elite. As he’s reminded us this season though, anything less leaves much to be desired.

Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, in three of his previous five starts, he had surrendered at least three goals. 

With a goals against average of 2.82, he ranked 22nd among all goalies. His save percentage of .911 is 19th.  

It’s early yet, but don’t be surprised if backup Tristan Jarry receives more playing time throughout the year. He was solid in his single start this season, surrendering two goals on 31 shots from Winnipeg. 

Improved defensive play, however, could make both goalies’ lives much easier. The Penguins have allowed 187 shots on goal, the eleventh-most among teams.

It’s been rumored that Rutherford may make a move involving a defenseman, so perhaps that unit will be much improved in the near future.

These collective efforts have produced a 5-2 record for the Penguins, who currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Again, the season is still fresh, and hockey can be an unpredictable sport. In recent years, we’ve seen both the Penguins and Blue climb from the bottom of the standings to claim the Cup. We’ve also witnessed a 62-win Lightning team get swept in the first round of the playoffs. 

That’s to say the obvious — we don’t really know how this season will play out.

Nevertheless, it’s fair to like where the Penguins currently stand. Results have been positive, and there is reason to believe that can continue as the year goes on.

With fresh faces, signs of renewed offensive energy, Pittsburgh looks to be in a good place. But with inconsistency in the defense and goaltending, Rutherford probably isn’t done with his “big moves” just yet.