The Pens start their Championship defense tonight against the Blues with lots of turnover from last seasons team. Including the likes of Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley,Nick Bonino, and Ron Hainsey. They also lost Team and Fan favorite Marc-Andre Fleury. In turn, They have added some defense and muscle this offseason in order to combat a League that has no interest in protecting their Stars. This season they are officially counting on the youth of this team to take the next step and become everyday contributors for a full season. The Penguins will need all of that youth, and toughness, not to mention another strong season from Matt Murray to do what has not been done since the Islanders won 4 straight seasons from the late 70’s and early 80’s.
The Pens will raise their second straight Championship Banner tonight which is a tremendous accomplishment. In order to achieve that, they had to have Sidney Crosby assert himself as the best player in the league. He is not only the best player in the league but he is also the best Leader of men in Hockey.
It would also take Evgeni Malkin to have one of his best seasons as a Penguin, that would actually happen with Sid in the lineup night in and night out. It was not another year where Geno would disappear with Sid in the lineup. They would also get another strong year from Phil Kessel.
They had to win without Kris Letang which meant the defense was collaborative. It was next man up. It was Justin Schultz taking a giant next step and turn into a guy the Pens could count on when Letang was out of the lineup. They also needed the emergence of Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary as goal scorers and players that could accent Sidney Crosby. They would also need the scoring, grit, and craziness of Patric Hornqvist.
The Pens also relied on Matt Murray to guide them through the playoffs and Stanley Cup Championship. Many would like to argue that point, but the fact is, he was as good as you can get when they needed it most.
As mentioned though, the Pens were forced to fend off goons taking runs at those same stars I just mentioned. SO they went out and picked up Ryan Reeves, a winger that is not known as much for his offense as he is his the physical play and hard hits. That was an extremely hot topic this summer whether or not the Pens should add a player like that. I went on the record to liking the pickup but we will see how it plays out.
Since the Pens would let Fleury go to Vegas, they would need to go out and pick up Antti Niemi to back up Murray.
Also This season they are without Nick Bonino which will mean the third center position goes to one of the young guns or Ryan Reeves. Here is Something to consider. It’s October! Who really cares about the 3rd center right now. This team is really crammed with talent and can carry itself for as long as necessary before a move would have to be made. If it had to be made.
The GM and Head coach have really put together a run here that is unprecedented and has earned some rope. What is the rope you ask? Eperiments like Ryan Reeves. This is a guy they are convinced will contribute offensively but also bring the heavy. He is not just a thug, but a guy that can skate enough to keep the opponent on edge.
The only move in the offseason that churned as much press as the Reeves pick up was the Pens moving on from Marc-Andre Fleury. He was a beloved player and a leader in the locker room. The fanbase was split on their thoughts on the move and I think if Murray does not get off to a good start, you will hear the Fleury fans speak up. No, I guarantee you will. If Pens fans are nothing else, they are all about the “the other guy.”
What is great about “the next season” is the turning of the page. It is a time to see what this group of players can do as a team. It will be fun to watch this team from a goalie perspective as Murray leads that group with out Fleury behind him. Reeves is a compelling story and one that will play out as a good pick up or a, “why did they do that?” Finally, it will be fun to see if this team can defy the odds and win their third straight Stanley Cup.
It all starts tonight. “It’s a Hockey Night In Pittsburgh.”