TONE AROUND THE TEAM
When Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan gathered his team for his usual post-practice address, he let them know how excited he was about the group that they have.
"I think we have the opportunity to be a real competitive hockey team," Sullivan said. "But as I've always said to them, nothing is inevitable. We've got to go out and earn it now. We've got to earn it every day. It's for real now. I think everybody is excited to play. And I look forward to the opportunity to work with this group."
What makes Sullivan so excited, he said, is that he can sense a different attitude and a different mindset surrounding the team, especially with the group that got swept in the First Round by the New York Islanders in the 2019 playoffs.
"I think when you go through some of the experiences that we went through when you don't live up to your own expectations, it forces everyone involved to do a little bit of soul searching and figure out how we can get back on the right track," Sullivan said. "This is a team thing. It involves all of us. We all have to take ownership for it. It starts with the head coach and I think everyone has done that. I feel good about this group."
Taking that and combining it with what new players like Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev and Dominik Kahun will bring is a combination that has everybody enthused.
"I think that for the guys who were here last year, there'll be certainly some motivation, and I think for the new guys, they'll bring in some good energy and they'll be excited," Sidney Crosby said. "I think a good combination of that experience with that energy should give us a good boost."
The players are cognizant that they're not necessarily at the top of anyone's power rankings or predictions after the way they finished last season. But they don't mind. It's a new year, new challenge and they know what they're capable of.
As Sullivan said, they have a great core of players - Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray - that are an accomplished group that understands what it takes to win. And they've made some changes to the roster that make them younger, faster and harder to play against.
"I'm not the type of guy that reads the media, but there's a sense in the dressing room with the questions being asked that people count us out of the race," Letang said. "But we have a great group of guys, tons of talent, guys want to compete, guys want to win. I think we're in pretty good shape."
And with the longest offseason in recent memory and a training camp that felt like it took "forever," as defenseman Justin Schultz said, they can't wait to get it going tonight against Buffalo.
"Just to get back in the season and back in the swing of things, I think we're all excited to go," Guentzel said. "We've been waiting for this for a while. Just excited to see where the team goes and hopefully we start off right."
After Guentzel scored 22 goals in his first full season (2017-18), he said he wanted to work on being a more consistent player - and went on to score 40 goals the following year. So what's in store for him this season?
"Just back it up again," he said. "When you do it for a year it's good, but you've got to keep doing it year in and year out. Just got to stick with it. It's a new season, new year, so you've got to start over and start fresh and you can't look back on the past."
It looks like Guentzel will be getting a big opportunity on the power play with the departure of Phil Kessel, who was a mainstay on the first unit during his four seasons in Pittsburgh. While the Penguins have tried a number of different combinations, one they've used a lot has had Guentzel with Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin, Crosby and Letang.
"'Horny' is so good at the net-front, so I just try to let him do his thing," Guentzel said. "Whether it's getting the rebounds or helping guys out on the walls, I think I'm just trying to be a support system out there and I'm sure the puck will find me, too. I'm excited to get the chance and we'll see what I can do with it."
For the power play as a whole, one main objective will be to cut down on shorthanded goals against (they tied for the league lead with 15 last season).
"We're not happy with that," Malkin said. "It's not just one guy. The five guys need to work together and backcheck. We need to help each other. This is a problem last year, too. Coach tells us if we do not play right, we will not play power play. I think he's right."
Galchenyuk has been dealing with a nagging lower-body injury, but he said he's pretty sure he'll be ready to go for tonight.
"He feels really good," Sullivan said. "We need to talk to the trainers, but it looks encouraging. He'll be a game-time decision."
Galchenyuk participated in line rushes during morning skate. Here is the workflow the Penguins used…
Here are the power-play units they used:
1) Letang, Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Guentzel
2) Schultz, Pettersson, Galchenyuk, Bjugstad, Kahun