PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s finally October and that means it’s also finally hockey season.
The Penguins open their 2019-2020 season Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena against the Buffalo Sabres and when they take the ice, some new faces will be wearing the black and gold skating penguin.
Joining the Penguins this year in what was maybe the biggest shockwave among the fanbase, is Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Phil Kessel.
The Penguins sent Phil Kessel to the Coyotes along with Dane Birks and a fourth-round pick in order to acquire the right-winger. This came on the heels of Phil Kessel having what was described as a down season in 2018-2019, despite scoring 27 goals, adding 55 assists for 82 points, good for a point-per-game pace. However, 36 of those 82 points came on the power play. Kessel’s even-strength production was called into question.
The Penguins also signed forward Brandon Tanev to a six-year, $21 million dollar deal in free agency, counting for $3.5 million against the salary cap. Tanev was most recently a member of the Winnipeg Jets where in 2018-2019 he scored a career-high 29 points, scoring 14 goals and adding 15 assists.
Tanev, however, is known more for his defensive prowess as he was largely used in the Jets bottom-six alongside center Adam Lowry, a pairing that thrived on shutting down opposition’s offensive attacks.
Another new face joining the Penguins is second-year forward Dominik Kahun, who was acquired from Chicago in exchange for defenseman Olli Maatta.
Kahun surprised many his rookie season putting up 37 points with the Blackhawks in 82 games. He scored 13 goals and added 24 assists, playing with elite talents such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The Penguins are hoping Kahun can continue that success this season working with players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Nick Bjugstad.
On the blue line, the lineup remains largely the same with the top pairing expected to be Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang, the second pairing likely to be Justin Schultz and Marcus Pettersson.
The big competition will be on the third pairing with five defensemen vying for just two spots.
Jack Johnson returns after a tumultuous first season in Pittsburgh, battling with Erik Gudbranson, Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel, and rookie defenseman John Marino.
Marino was the biggest surprise out of camp. He was an offseason acquisition from Edmonton for a 2021 sixth-round pick. General Manager Jim Rutherford was impressed by the first-year defenseman’s camp and said he expected him to be on the NHL roster.
DEEP AT FORWARD
The Penguins’ biggest strength remains at forward.
Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang still remain elite talents. For the sixth time in Crosby’s career, he reached the 100-point mark in 2018-2019.
Kris Letang had arguably his finest season to date in 2018-2019. Despite only playing 65 games, Letang tied his career-high in goals with 16, added 40 assists for the second-highest point total of his career at 56. Early on in the season, Norris Trophy consideration was on the table and the Penguins are hoping he can build on what was a fine season.
Evgeni Malkin, however, had what many considered a poor season.
He’s hoping to bounce back from what seemed to be a frustrating campaign. 2018-2019 saw Malkin take the second most penalties of his career with 89 penalty minutes.
However, Geno still scored 21 goals and added 51 assists.
Center Nick Bjugstad seems to be the third line center the Penguins have been searching for after Nick Bonino left via free agency in 2017.
In 64 games, split evenly between the Penguins and Florida Panthers, Bjugstad scored 14 goals, added 12 assists for 26 points. The biggest skill set Bjugstad brings to the Penguins is his ability in the faceoff circle. Bjugstad has hovered around the 50% mark in the dot and it’s expected he’ll be called upon to take several defensive zone draws.
On the wing, the Penguins find themselves with a wealth of talent down the left side.
Jake Guentzel scored a career-high 40 goals and 76 points while becoming the fabled “winger for Sid” in 2018-2019.
The Penguins also boast Alex Galchenyuk, who has scored 127 career goals in 7 seasons, despite playing for teams not known for offense.
A full season of Jared McCann hopes to show more production has he saw his goal totals reach the double digits for the first time in four seasons at 19.
The Penguins still also have players such as Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon, Dominik Kahun and Teddy Blueger.
The Penguins, as usual, will have a dynamic offense.
THE MASKED MAN
Matt Murray’s season did not begin as planned.
He fought through injuries and was eventually placed on IR until December.
When Murray came back he was arguably one of the best goalies in the league. His even-strength save percentage was .933%, good for 8th in the league among all goalies.
Murray also finished the year with a .919 save percentage, which also overall came out to 8th best in the National Hockey League.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract and with the trend of goalies getting paid, Murray is hoping to have a big year in the 2019-2020 season.
In a risky move, the Pens decided to waive 2018 backup goalie Casey DeSmith in order to become salary cap compliant. The move gave the backup goalie position to Tristan Jarry, who was a former Penguins draft pick and had been in the system for years.
The gamble paid off, as DeSmith cleared waivers earlier this week, and will start the season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
A RENEWED DIVISION
Three of the last four Stanley Cup champions have come from the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017 and then the Washington Capitals took the trophy home in 2018.
The division has only gotten stronger.
Over the offseason, several moves were made around the division, making it one of the most competitive in hockey.
The New Jersey Devils drafted center Jack Hughes first overall and also added some tremendous depth by trading for star defenseman P.K. Subban. Those two will join players such as Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier on a young, but hungry roster.
Just up the road, the New York Rangers had the second overall pick and chose right-wing Kaapo Kakko, a dynamic scoring winger from Finland. Along with the addition of Kakko, the Rangers added prize free agent Artemi Panarin. This gives the Rangers a renewed offensive attack.
Eastern Conference finalist Carolina Hurricanes return largely the same roster that surprised everyone and made a run to the NHL’s final four in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they signed defenseman Jake Gardiner, making what was already a stout defense even stronger.
Two of the biggest question marks in the division will be the Blue Jackets and Flyers.
Philadelphia still remains relatively young with players such as Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and goaltending prospect Carter Hart. The Flyers hope a full season of Hart between the pipes will lead to an improved 2019-2020.
Columbus, however, seems to be a team that took several steps back this offseason.
At the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets loaded up their roster with the likes of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. Both of those players left via free agency with Duchene heading to Nashville and Dzingel to Carolina. They also lost Artemi Panrin to the Rangers and Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to Florida.
The team that ended the Penguins’ season in a four-game sweep remains largely the same, however, the loss of goaltender Robin Lehner could be a step back as they’re hoping Head Coach Barry Trotz and Goaltending Coach Mitch Korn can again work their magic with newly-signed goalie Semeyon Varlamov.
Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, the Capitals only a year removed from a Stanley Cup victory remain largely the same, but are hoping goaltender Brayden Holtby will return to form considering he is in the final year of his contract. As always, leading NHL goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin looks to keep the magic going after scoring 51 goals in 2018-2019.
JUST FOR FANS
As usual, the Penguins have loaded the season with great opportunities and promotions for fans throughout the 2019-2020 campaign.
This week, the team released the Penguins Third-Jersey Schedule, with the first game in the alternate uniforms set for Saturday, October 5th against the Blue Jackets.
“Third jerseys, activate! We’re goin’ gold for weekend home games this season. 2019.20 third jersey schedule ⬇️”
Third jerseys, activate!
We're goin' gold for weekend home games this season.
2019.20 third jersey schedule ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/9KvtHJwAmq
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 2, 2019
Meanwhile, the team promotional schedule has been set. Some of the highlights include a Mike Lange and Jim Rutherford bobblehead nights, decades nights, star wars night and hockey fights cancer night.
Tickets are always available online for Penguins games at PPG Paints Arena. You can check out their website for single-game tickets, as well as the Penguins Ticket Exchange.
PPG and the NHL have partnered to bring new technology to the games this season. After testing the items with the Penguins and special events last season, PPG will provide a coating technology for all NHL game pucks that changes the color of the biscuit depending on the temperature. PPG made the announcement at PPG Paints Arena earlier this week.