Penguins’ Core Just Keeps Getting Better

The city of Pittsburgh has been enjoying elite hockey for over three decades. Mario Lemieux brought back-to-back Stanley Cup championships to the city in 1991 and 1992 before hanging up his skates after the 2005-06 season. Lemieux passed the torch to current team captain Sidney Crosby who has led the Penguins to three more championships. For the past 16 seasons, Crosby has had the help of forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. These three players have become known as “the core” and it is easy to see why. 

The Core 

The core has been playing together since the 2006-07 season and have formed one of the tightest bonds in the NHL. Last season, Malkin and Letang were in the final year of their contracts, and fans were left to wonder what Penguins hockey might look like without them. Both players were signed to new contracts last July which ensured they would retire having spent their whole career in Pittsburgh.

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The Penguins faced some criticism over this decision as not everyone was as relieved as Crosby to have Malkin and Letang back. Pittsburgh officially has the oldest team in the NHL with an average player age of 30.24. At the beginning of this season, there were serious doubts about how effective the core could really be with all three players in their mid-30s.

Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Crosby opened up the season as the league’s leading scorer with six points in the Penguins’ first two games. He was also named the NHL’s first star for the opening week of the year. He has played in 49 games so far this season and has scored 24 goals with 36 assists for a total of 60 points. He was just named to the NHL All-Star Game for the ninth time in his career. At 35 years old, the captain is proving that age really is just a number.

At the start of the season, Malkin was probably the one with the most to prove. After two knee surgeries, there were serious questions about how much he would be able to contribute and whether or not he would be able to stay healthy. With 19 goals and 31 assists in 49 games, it is safe to say he has put an end to any doubts about his ability to contribute.

Letang recently returned to the lineup after missing almost a month due to both a lower-body injury and the unexpected loss of his father. His first game back was on Jan. 24 against the Florida Panthers. The Penguins defeated the Panthers 7-6 in overtime with Letang scoring the game-winning goal. He leads all Penguins defensemen this season with 20 points in 32 games. He also averages 24:32 of ice time per game.

Can the Core Still Contribute?

In the win over the Panthers, Crosby, Malkin and Letang proved that they are still extremely valuable to the franchise. Without their combined production in that game, the Penguins would not have won. In his first game back in almost a month, Letang recorded two goals and two assists. When he was on the ice, Pittsburgh had 60 percent of the shot attempts and 63 percent of the scoring chances. Crosby recorded one goal and two assists against the Panthers and has now had 15 seasons with 60 or more points. 

Now that Letang has been reunited with his teammates it is clear that the Penguins still have every intention of chasing another Stanley Cup. One of the biggest questions surrounding Pittsburgh all season has been how long can the core keep up this pace. The answer seems to be as long as it takes.