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31 in 31

Three questions facing Pittsburgh Penguins

Murray's play early in season, Galchenyuk's role in spotlight

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three important questions facing the Pittsburgh Penguins.


[Penguins 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]


1. Can Matt Murray start fast?

By the end of last season, Murray resembled the goalie who won the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2016 and again in 2017. That wasn't the case in October and November, when the 25-year-old's injuries and early-season struggles led to coach Mike Sullivan giving Casey DeSmith a majority of the starts.

Entering his fifth NHL season, Murray will be counted on to perform like a No. 1 goalie from the moment the season opens.

"I try not to really carry any expectations," Murray said. "I just try to go out there, play my game, and try to get better each and every day."

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Murray


2. Can Alex Galchenyuk replace Phil Kessel?

Replacing Kessel, who was traded to the Arizona Coyotes on June 29, likely will be done by committee. But a bulk of the responsibility will fall on Galchenyuk after the 25-year-old forward was acquired in the trade for Kessel, along with defenseman prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Galchenyuk seems destined for one of Pittsburgh's top two lines, likely playing on either wing with second-line center Evgeni Malkin. After he had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) last season, his lowest total since he had 31 (13 goals, 18 assists) for the Montreal Canadiens in 2013-14, Galchenyuk likely will produce more playing with Malkin or first-line center Sidney Crosby.

Although Kessel had 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) last season and 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists) in 2017-18, Galchenyuk said he isn't focused on replacing Kessel's production. Instead, he wants to make sure he brings the best version of himself to Pittsburgh.

"I think I'm ready for it physically and mentally," Galchenyuk said. "Just looking forward to coming to Pittsburgh, to a winning culture. ... Just enjoy my time there and work hard to help the team to get to the ultimate goal, which is the Stanley Cup."

Video: Top five plays of 2018-19: Galchenyuk


3. Will Evgeni Malkin rebound?

Malkin said he was disappointed by his performance last season, when he had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) and was minus-25, the worst rating of his 13-season NHL career.

Late in the season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Penguins became more reliant on Crosby and forward Jake Guentzel to carry the load offensively. Without Malkin contributing consistently, Pittsburgh's options were limited.

If the Penguins want to get back to contending for a championship this season, they will need Malkin to return to his form from 2017-18, when he had 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) and was plus-16.

Video: 31 in 31: Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 season preview

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