Good afternoon hockey fans. Tonight the Pens open the 2015-16 season with a showdown against the Dallas Stars in Big D.
Sniper Phil Kessel will make his official debut as a Penguin when he laces up the skates and plays alongside Sidney Crosby. A few other Pens will be making their debut as well, including Nick Bonino, Sergei Plotnikov and Matt Cullen.
Daniel Sprong, 18, will be making his NHL debut tonight, a dream come true for the Amsterdam native. Sprong actually was dressed 20 minutes early and was the first Penguin on the ice for the morning skate. I would guess he’s a little excited.
The Pens held an optional morning skate. The top line of Crosby, Kessel and Chris Kunitz were among those that stayed off the ice.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES Several Stars players are making their team debut tonight, including the Chicago connections of Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Antii Niemi.
The main question surrounding the Stars heading into this season is who will be the starting goaltender. Kari Lehtonen has been the team’s starter for the past five seasons, but the team acquired Niemi in the offseason. The two have battled it out in training camp for the job. Niemi will get nod against Pittsburgh, but head coach Lindy Ruff said both players will likely share playing time this season.
MATCHUP Both Dallas and Pittsburgh have very similar philosophies and makeups. Both clubs like to play an up-tempo style and push the play offensively while keeping their D active in the rush. Both squads are also strong and deep at forward with a lot of skill up front.
The Stars were the No. 2 ranked offense last year, but fourth worst defensively. They were willing to sacrifice defense in the name of offense last year. That’s something that Ruff wants them to change this season.
Turnovers will be the deciding factor in the game. And since it’s the first regular-season game, you can expect both teams to be a little less crisp than usual.
The Stars are a lightning fast team that likes to pounce on turnovers. If the Pens are sloppy in their passes, Dallas will take advantage. But the Pens can also counter. If the Stars get trapped up ice, the Pens can create a lot off offense the other way.
The game could end up being a track contest. It will be a test for both team’s defenses and goaltenders Niemi and Marc-Andre Fleury.
PENS TV INTERVIEWS
GAME INFO Where: American Airlines Center When: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. TV: ROOT Sports Radio: WXDX Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop