CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Penguins are excited for a fresh start.
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins became the first team in a generation to win consecutive championships a little more than two years ago. But the Penguins stumbled into an extended off-season last spring when the New York Islanders swept them from the first round of the playoffs.
That left general manager Jim Rutherford to wonder aloud after the season whether some of his players were too content because they’ve won a couple of Stanley Cups.
Crosby and the Penguins are out to prove that’s not the case.
“I think there’s a certain level of hunger and urgency and desperation you have to have if you’re getting through the playoffs,” Crosby said Friday as the Penguins opened training camp.
“Sometimes you think because you have experience that it automatically gives you an edge. It does if you use it, but if you don’t, it doesn’t do much for you.”
Coach Mike Sullivan believes his team can be a championship-calibre group again. But he stressed a daily focus and attention to detail, a brand of intelligent and responsible hockey Sullivan has tried to instill since he took over in December 2015.
“I think this team is capable of doing some real good things,” Sullivan said. “But we have to earn it every day. It’s not inevitable. There’s a nice feeling around the team. I think everyone is excited about the opportunity and possibilities that we have.”
The Penguins traded winger Phil Kessel to Arizona for Alex Galchenyuk in the off-season.
The 31-year-old Kessel scored 27 goals and 82 points last season, his fourth with the Penguins. He was a vital part of Pittsburgh’s run to consecutive Stanley Cups, finishing second to Crosby for the 2016 Conn Smythe Trophy, while scoring 18 goals and 45 points, as the Penguins became the first team in nearly two decades to win back-to-back titles.
Rutherford spoke of a culture change in the dressing room following the season, and while Kessel is now in Arizona, the Penguins will still need to replace his production.
“Phil produced for us, it’s no secret,” Crosby said. “Nobody has to come in here and put up the same stat lines he did. It’s pretty tough to fill those shoes. I think collectively we’re going to have to find ways to make up for that.”
Evgeni Malkin seeks a bounce-back season after the 2012 NHL MVP, and two-time scoring champion, ended a career-worst minus-25 with just 21 goals, his lowest full-season output in almost a decade. The 33-year-old spoke said Friday he wants to be a better leader this season.
“Last year, I’m not happy, for sure,” Malkin said. “Now, it’s a new challenge this year. I want back, my highest level. I can still play at the top level. I want to show everyone I’m not done.”
Malkin skated alongside Galchenyuk and free agent pickup Brandon Tanev on Friday.
The 25-year-old Galchenyuk has put up five consecutive 40-point seasons, and can play both ends of the ice. The 27-year-old Tanev spent his first four seasons in Winnipeg, and also has a reputation as a strong penalty killer and a hard-working, two-way player. He set career highs with 18 goals and 29 points last year.
Pittsburgh also traded for forward Dominik Kahun in the off-season. The 24-year-old played in all 82 games for Chicago in his first NHL season and finished with 13 goals and 37 points. On Friday, Kahun played on a line with Crosby and 24-year-old Jake Guentzel, who scored 40 goals last season.
Crosby and the Penguins are eager to add the new faces into the mix.
“I think it’s exciting to build an identity and have a fresh start,” Crosby said. “When we won, we didn’t sit here talking about June. Just like the fact that we got swept last year, it really doesn’t matter at this point. We’re all starting from the same spot.”
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Dan Scifo, The Associated Press