It’s win-now mode for the Pittsburgh Penguins, a mindset that really hasn’t changed much since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin arrived on the scene nearly two decades ago. Regardless of the management and coaching changes throughout the years, the constant has been a winning attitude and a focused mindset with eyes on championships. With three Stanley Cups already on the mantel for this Penguins core, the fourth could very well be on the way next spring.
Any time I chat with industry colleagues about the Penguins, there’s a theme. “Any time you have that core you have a chance to win” is something I hear all the time. Rightfully so, Crosby is still among the game’s elite and Malkin, when healthy, is arguably the best second-line center in the league. Add in Kris Letang on the back end and legends row has produced a tremendous amount throughout their tenure together. It feels like they aren’t slowing down anytime soon, and considering the team’s bad luck when it’s come to injuries, a healthy season could mean big things in Pittsburgh, like planning a parade and debating over who’s the best Penguin of all-time after No. 87 hoists another Stanley Cup. The Pens are for real and 2022-23 is going to be fun to watch.
The Time is Now For Tristan Jarry
The way last season ended seemed poetic for all the wrong reasons. Injuries have taken a toll on the Penguins of late and it was never more evident in the past three years as it was against the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, playing a third-string netminder after two goalies go down. Tristan Jarry has the game to complement a team to a Stanley Cup win, and if he comes back stronger than ever, a career season is within reach.
Jarry is coming off a season where he improved his goals-against average, from 2.75 in 2020-21 down to 2.42 last season. The postseason success hasn’t come as of yet, but if the Penguins can avoid any adversity heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and enter the NHL season with a clean bill of health, Jarry appears poised to elevate his game. It’s worth mentioning he’s also in a contract season which adds some extra motivation to perform. It’s the biggest season of his career, the Penguins are expecting his best.
New Season, New Look Lineup?
A new season also allows head coach Mike Sullivan to re-evaluate his lineup. The Penguins were one of the many teams to make multiple moves this summer and it’s an interesting mix of talent added to the fold. Veteran defenseman Jeff Petry could have a huge impact this season. His all-around game is underrated and he’s more complete than people usually give him credit for. Petry found his game at times last season with the Montreal Canadiens, a team going through a number of hurdles in 2021-22. General manager Ron Hextall will be watching closely early on to see what elements of Petry’s game stand out the most in Pittsburgh. He recorded 140 hits and blocked 117 shots for the Canadiens a season ago.
Rickard Rakell is also a Penguins X-factor. A full season with the Penguins will do wonders for his game and look for Rakell to improve on his numbers from 2021-22. His 13 points in 19 games were nothing to be upset about, but this season, I’m expecting the versatile winger to put up 70-plus points. It will be interesting to see if the trio of Crosby, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel stay together and if Rakell plays into any of that decision. As it stands right now, he’s likely headed for Malkin’s wing once again, and more ice time together should create more chemistry. It’s going to be interesting to watch how the left wing plays out.
Newcomer Ty Smith is also a player who comes into the Penguins’ lineup, looking for some more consistency in his game. The mobile defenseman will likely start in the bottom pair for Sullivan, but is someone with potential to move up in the lineup. The same can be said for Danton Heinen, who is likely heading into training camp with a mindset he’d like to be the left winger alongside Malkin and Rakell. Jason Zucker will have something to say about that, but Heinen likely doesn’t much for extra motivation after the way his contract situation was handled a couple of months ago.
Penguins Captain Still a Dominant Force
The 35-year-old Crosby is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career, minus any postseason success. That’s last season’s issues, though, and the Penguins captain appears poised to once again lead his team to contention. Well over a point-per-game in the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs, Crosby appears poised for a 100-point season. Fully healthy and dialed in after watching his best buddy Nathan MacKinnon party with the Cup, No. 87 will be hard to stop in 2022-23.
One other storyline I’d mention to keep an eye on will be the third line and what kind of role they play in the team’s success this season. Jeff Carter, Brock McGinn and Kasperi Kapanen appear to be the favorites for the gig and can they help the team keep the puck out of their own net is my biggest question. It’s an interesting trio with an assortment of tools; we’ll see how much they can produce on both sides of the puck this season.
Nevertheless, the 2022-23 season is going to be fun to watch in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are coming in strong, holding Stanley Cup aspirations, and likely their breath, as a healthy season and untimely injuries are hopefully a thing of the past.