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Season Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby out indefinitely with concussion; defending Stanley Cup champions seek repeat

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 48-26-8, 104 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Defeated New York Rangers in five games in Eastern Conference First Round; defeated Washington Capitals in six games in second round; defeated Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in conference final; defeated San Jose Sharks in six games in Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F: Thomas Di Pauli; D: Stuart Percy

Subtractions: F: Beau Bennett: D: Ben Lovejoy; G: Jeff Zatkoff

 

Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Scott Wilson -- Evgeni Malkin -- Patric Hornqvist

Carl Hagelin -- Nick Bonino -- Phil Kessel

Chris Kunitz -- Eric Fehr -- Conor Sheary

Tom Sestito -- Matt Cullen -- Tom Kuhnhackl

Bryan Rust

Defensemen

Brian Dumoulin -- Kris Letang

Olli Maatta -- Trevor Daley

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Derrick Pouliot

Goalies

Marc-Andre Fleury

Tristan Jarry

Matt Murray

 

Video: Obama honors Stanley Cup Champion Penguins

After a sluggish start to last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins rebounded to make a seemingly improbable run to the Stanley Cup. That success was followed by a quiet offseason, which led the Penguins to think they were set up for another deep playoff run.

Although the Penguins' confidence hasn't taken a big hit, their early-season expectations lessened a bit on Monday, when general manager Jim Rutherford announced that captain Sidney Crosby sustained a concussion that will keep him out indefinitely.

It remains to be seen how Pittsburgh attempts to make up for Crosby's absence coming off of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he scored 19 points (six goals) to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in June. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Pittsburgh would rely on veteran leadership to steer it through Crosby's injury.

Other than the loss of Crosby, the most notable change will come in goal where Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to enter the season as No 1. Fleury is accustomed to opening a season as the starter but wasn't sure that would be the case this time after Matt Murray's superb play helped Pittsburgh win the Cup.

That changed Sept. 24, when it was announced Murray would miss 3-6 weeks with a broken hand sustained playing for Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. That put Fleury back into the starting role, at least until Murray, who began skating on his own Oct. 5, returns.

Tristan Jarry, 21, will begin the season as Fleury's backup after going 17-13-3 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .905 save percentage with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League last season.

Before Fleury sustained his second concussion in four months on March 31, he might have been Pittsburgh's most consistent player. He was 35-17-6 with a 2.29 GAA and .921 save percentage. Murray replaced Fleury and went 15-6 in the playoffs with a 2.08 goals-against average.

The Penguins also get back defenseman Trevor Daley after a broken ankle forced him to miss the final nine games of the Stanley Cup run. His return will help mask the loss of Ben Lovejoy, who signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent. Daley had 22 points (six goals) in 53 games with Pittsburgh after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 14.

Forward Bryan Rust, who played right wing with center Evgeni Malkin and left wing Chris Kunitz, missed the beginning of training camp with a broken finger sustained in Game 6 of the Final. If Rust does miss the start of the season, Scott Wilson could fill the void. He scored six points (five goals) in 24 games with Pittsburgh last season before a broken ankle ended his season March 11.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Pittsburgh is returning its Cup-winning lineup nearly intact. Its speed won't drop off and if Crosby returns healthy, he could still be poised for a strong season after winning the MVP award and powering Team Canada to the championship at the World Cup.

Video: PIT@SJS: Crosby, Pens celebrate fourth Stanley Cup

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Penguins had a short offseason following their Cup run. That could prove to be physically taxing, especially for Malkin, Murray, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin and Olli Maatta, who played in the World Cup. Malkin, who played with an injured elbow throughout the playoffs, said he was displeased with his World Cup performance. His level of play could become a significant factor in Pittsburgh's hopes to repeat.

 

Breakout candidate

Wilson. Although his season was cut short, he produced when he was on the ice. Wilson had a goal in three consecutive games from Feb. 13-21 and made it four in five games by scoring against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 27. If he's put in the right position, Wilson could add another offensive weapon.

Video: CHI@PIT: Wilson corrals a pass in with his skate

 

On the hot seat

Derrick Pouliot. Pittsburgh's first-round pick (No. 8) in the 2012 NHL Draft has yet to live up to his potential entering his third season. Pouliot entered training camp last year with a solid chance to earn a spot on the opening-night roster, but he struggled through the preseason and was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Pouliot came to camp this season noticeably slimmer and determined to prove he can be an everyday NHL defenseman.

 

Trophy candidates

Crosby (Hart, Ross); Letang (Norris)

 

Quotable

"I think it is what it is. Injuries are a part of our game. Part of the challenge for us is to try and help Sid get healthy as quickly as possible. That's what we're going to do. We don't look at it any other way. For me, frustration at this point is a useless emotion." - Sullivan on Crosby's concussion

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