The Pens open the 2015-16 season on Thursday night in Dallas against the Stars, who boast one of the fastest and deadliest teams in the NHL.
Pittsburgh will be tested by Dallas’ offense, which ranked second in the league last year and boasts reigning NHL scoring champion Jamie Benn and dynamic snipers Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp.
In fact, the biggest area the Pens need to be aware of in terms of defending Dallas will be defending against its speed and transition.
“They have a lot of high-end talent and try to play a lot of run-and-gun,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “The key to that is taking care of the puck when we have it. A team like this thrives off of quick turnovers and taking the puck the other way and using their speed to make you uncomfortable.”
Pittsburgh’s puck control in the neutral zone will be critical. But even when they play in the offensive zone they need to be ready to jump back to defend against the Stars’ rush.
“The main thing for me is off of our forecheck,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “We have to recover and get above them off of our forecheck.”
The Pens will need to keep the Stars players in front of them, but they also don’t want to back off too much and give such talented forwards a lot of ice to make plays.
“You don’t want to back off and play on your heels,” blueliner Kris Letang said. “You want to execute a good forecheck and from there we’ll have a better gap. But managing the puck is what starts everything.”
* The Pens couldn’t practice at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday because of a concert. So Pittsburgh did what it has had to do at times like these – they dressed in all of their gear, minus skates, and boarded a bus, which took them to the Dr. Pepper StarCenter for practice.
Photos are below.
Another odd thing was that the lights were really dim at the beginning of the team’s practice. It was only later on in the session that they became fully illuminated. So the goalies and players had to adjust in the early going.
* Center Matt Cullen will be the Pens’ fourth-line center when the season begins. He’ll also be relied upon to shoulder some minutes on the penalty kill with Pascal Dupuis missing the next 4-5 weeks with a lower-body injury.
But what the Pens really want from the 17-year NHL veteran is to provide guidance to their young players, including 18-year-old linemate Daniel Sprong, and leadership in the locker room.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that’s part of my role,” Cullen said. “That’s something that I enjoy. A lot of guys stepped out of their comfort zone along the way to help me too, so it’s part of the deal.”
* The only missing healthy player from the Pens practice was forward Oskar Sundqvist, who was recalled by the team on Monday.