Hey Pens fans! My name is Annie Hilenski and this year I’m going to be writing about your Pittsburgh Penguins – the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. I’m a passionate Pens fan so I hope to bring a cool perspective to Pittsburgh hockey throughout the season.
This offseason was a tumultuous one. Though things got started with the resigning of AHL veteran Tom Kostopoulos, the real changes began with the movement of James Neal to the Nashville Predators in return for RW Patric Hornqvist and C Nick Spaling. Both will likely see plenty of NHL ice time, though only time will tell how the void of the goal scorer Neal (27 G, 61 Pts in 2013-2014) leaving will be filled.
Most of the core Pens that fans had come to know went elsewhere during free agent frenzy, including Deryk Engelland (Calgary Flames), Tanner Glass (NY Rangers), Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen (Washington Capitals), Joe Vitale (Arizona Coyotes), and Jussi Jokinen (Florida Panthers). On the other hand, in came LW Blake Comeau, G Thomas Greiss, RW Steve Downie, and 2014 first-round draft pick RW Kasperi Kapanen.
Without a doubt, the biggest moves were the ones made in the front office and coaching staff. General Manager Ray Shero and Head Coach Dan Bylsma were both fired this summer. In their place came Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston, respectively. Jim Rutherford, the former GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, brings a breath of fresh air to the organization, as does Johnston, who is the former coach/GM of the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL major junior league.
So what about the prospects? The Penguins have a slew of young guys on the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and various junior teams waiting for their NHL call ups. Besides defensive line-up locks like Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, Rob Scuderi, Olli Maatta (when healed), and Robert Bortuzzo, you also have to take into account that fresh faces Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Philip Samuelsson, and Derrick Pouliot (when healed) are raring to go. Certainly we’ll see some prospects get called up throughout the season and earn their place on the main roster.
As always, training camp itself proved interesting.
- Coach Johnston announced that both C Sidney Crosby and C Evgeni Malkin would not participate early in camp for “precautionary reasons”, referencing minor injuries that occurred prior to camp. Crosby has since been ready to play, while Malkin could start skating anytime this week.
- RW Pascal Dupuis participated, although in a red non-contact jersey, in training camp practices. Dupuis hasn’t played in a game since he suffered a torn ACL on December 23, 2013. He was just recently cleared for contact, and fans can expect him back on the ice very soon.
- D Olli Maatta also donned a red jersey for camp after having shoulder surgery in May and being given a recovery time of 4-6 months, but was allowed limited contact in camp and could be ready to play anytime between now and November.
- RW Beau Bennett, plagued with a lingering wrist injury for a good portion of last season, was reportedly injured during practice on Friday, September 26th. It appeared to be a left leg injury. The injury did not require surgery and he should be good to go in about 6 weeks. (Pictured right: Bennett’s tweet from a few hours after the injury occurred)
The first two preseason games that the Pens have played were less than ideal, with Pittsburgh losing once at home vs. the Detroit Red Wings with a score of 2-1 and once away vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they were shut out 2-0. However, the Penguins soothed the burn of two straight losses with two straight home wins. The first was a 3-2 overtime contest against the Minnesota Wild on September 25th. This was followed by another game at Consol vs. the Blue Jackets on September 27th that the Pens took with a score of 2-1. Their last two preseason games will be road games when they play the Wild on September 29th and the Red Wings on October 1st.
The Pens season opener will be October 9th, when they will host the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks, home of offensive tandem Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, led the league in goals per game last season. This will definitely be an exciting game to watch!
It seems to be becoming a pattern that the Penguins enjoy crazy and eventful off- and preseasons, and this summer was no different. Hopefully we’ll see our Pens start the season with a revived game and a bang. Whatever happens, I’ll be here to cover it all!