Penguins fans to the rest of hockey nation: Well, this is going to be fun.
Despite having the best player in the league and some of the top talent to back him up, the Penguins quickly slipped out of contention — and almost out of a playoff spot — last year before fizzling out in just five games after injuries foiled their hopes.
This year brings a clean bill of health — not to mention, a new toy for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The addition of sniper Phil Kessel via trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs made waves this off-season and, if all goes as planned, the ripple effect will continue in the form of goals, goals, and more goals.
When your biggest question up front is ‘will Kessel play alongside Crosby or Malkin?,’ you know it’s going to be an exciting season.
Head coach: Mike Johnston
GM: Jim Rutherford
Team payroll: $69.3 million cap hit against $71.4 million cap
Last season record: 43-27-12
Goals for: 217 (19th in NHL)
Goals against: 204 (tied for 10th in NHL)
PP: 19.3 per cent (10th in NHL)
PK: 84.8 per cent (3rd in NHL)
Corsi for per 60: 55.9 (9th in NHL) (via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)
Highlight of 2014-15: It wasn’t the brightest of seasons for the Penguins, but Crosby met another career milestone when he registered his 300th career NHL regular season goal on April 1 against the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
Pre-season letter grades
Forwards: So far this pre-season, all signs are pointing to Kessel teaming up with Crosby on the first line, but no commitments have been made.
One interesting development out of training camp has been the chemistry found between Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and first-year NHLer Sergei Plotnikov.
Chris Kunitz, meanwhile, is looking to rebound after his worst season since 2009-10, and Pascal Dupuis should be healthy again and ready to contribute. Look for David Perron to gain more chemistry after joining mid-season last year, and for veteran Eric Fehr to add to the team’s depth. GRADE: A
Defence: The Penguins combine equal parts young talent (Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Dumoulin, Clendening) and veteran known-how (Ben Lovejoy, Ian Cole, Rob Scuderi), all led by all-star do-it-all D-man Kris Letang. Maatta and Letang both missed substantial time last season — Maatta played just 20 games and Letang missed the final stretch of the season as well as the playoffs — which was a huge blow to the Penguins’ playoff hopes. Paul Martin was the only top defender who managed to stay healthy, but he’s a Shark now. That loss could prove worrisome later in the season, if the Penguins’ lack of defensive depth is exposed. GRADE: A
Goaltending: In 2014-15 Marc-Andre Fleury achieved career-bests in save percentage (.920) and goals against average (2.32) while leading the league in regular season shutouts with 10. He was also a bright spot during the Penguins’ short playoff run (.927 save percentage, 2.12 GAA). While his performance isn’t necessarily in question looking ahead to this year, his workload is. After backup Thomas Greiss left for the New York Islanders in free agency, the Penguins will lean on a relatively inexperienced Jeff Zatkoff to fill the backup role. GRADE: A-
The Penguins will have a successful season if… they can stay healthy. The Penguins — specifically, their defence — were hit hard by injuries last year. With so much talent on the roster, there’s no doubting the team can surpass last season’s short playoff run if health isn’t an issue.
The Penguins will have a disappointing season if… They can’t up their resiliency. Ready for a crazy stat? The Penguins’ win percentage when trailing after two periods of play is… zero. Their comeback capacity flat-lined in all 23 cases of the team trailing — including five overtime losses.