32 for 32: Pittsburgh Penguins preview

NHL.com offers in-depth analysis of each of the 32 teams between August 8 and September 8. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season could have been marked by change, except that they opted for stability instead.

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attackers Evgeny Malkin and Bryan Rust as well as the defender Kris Letang could have left the team through the free agent market. But rather than upsetting the team, we chose to keep the core composed of Sidney CrosbyMalkin and Letang in hopes of competing for the Stanley Cup at least one more time.

These three are coming to the end of their best years and, soon, their NHL careers. Crosby (35) will be playing his 18th season. Malkin (36) and Letang (35) will be in their 17th campaign.

But that doesn’t mean confidence in the Pittsburgh leadership group is shaken.

« This group still has some great hockey to offer and they still have a chance to do some awesome things, » general manager Ron Hextall said. “It was part of the decision. […] We can still be very competitive in this league and achieve something special. These players are special. These are players who marked their generation.

« They’re not just great hockey players. They belong to the elite and they make others better. We still think we are among the best teams in the League. »

Letang signed a six-year contract on July 7, before Malkin agreed to a four-year deal on July 12.

Rust, who won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017, will return to a six-year contract signed May 21. attackers Rickard Rakell, Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen do not move either, after each initialing a new agreement.

However, there have been changes defensively. The Penguins traded Mike Matheson and a fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft to the Montreal Canadiens for the defenseman Jeff Petry and attacker Ryan Poehling July 16. On the same day, the defender John Marino was sent to the New Jersey Devils against defender Ty Smith and a third-round pick in 2023.

The Penguins will still have a similar face to the team that failed to make it past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a fourth consecutive season. They were eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers in the first round last season.

The successes are still very real. Pittsburgh qualified for the spring tournament for a 16th straight campaign, the longest active streak of its kind among major professional sports in North America.

Except that we do not judge the Penguins on a participation in the big spring dance. Since the beginning of the Crosby, Malkin and Letang era, they have been expected to be in the hunt for the championship on a regular basis. And that won’t change this season.

« We were lucky enough to be able to play together for so long, » Crosby said May 17. “We went through a lot of hardships. When you think of all the experience we have accumulated, there is a lot of belief in us. In addition, we have had success, which adds to our level of confidence. It’s very rare, and we really appreciate it. »

Hard to say the Penguins are wrong to opt for stability. Crosby, who had wrist surgery on Sept. 8, 2021, had 84 points (31 goals, 53 assists) in 69 games last season. Letang set an NHL career high with 68 points (10 goals, 58 assists) in 78 games. Malkin returned to action after knee surgery in the offseason and had 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 41 games.

Video: NYR@PIT, #4: Crosby levels the mark in AN

The core is expected to replicate its successes.

the attacker Jake Guentzel should be able to score at least 40 goals again on Crosby’s left flank. Rust, who should play on the right of Crosby, will have to live up to his new contract, having averaged 0.91 points per game over the past three seasons (0.45 in his first five campaigns).

Healthy, the Penguins know what to expect from their forwards and most of their defensemen. The uncertainty is rather in front of the net.

number one keeper Tristan Jarry missed the first six games of the playoffs with a lower-body injury. He came back with a 26-save performance in a 4-3 overtime loss to Rangers in Game 7. Casey DeSmiththe auxiliary, should be ready for training camp, after undergoing abdominal muscle surgery on May 6.

Goalie attire is one of the many lingering issues for the Penguins, even though they’ve made few changes to their roster. It remains to be seen how they will respond to this, and it will once again be up to Crosby, Malkin and Letang to lead the charge.

« These guys are so important to the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Penguins, » coach Mike Sullivan said July 7. “The legacy they leave speaks for them. I’ve said it many times: these guys are getting old, but they’re not old. I think there is a big difference there. »

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