To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.
Today’s team: Pittsburgh Penguins
2014-15 record: 43-27-12, 4th in the Metropolitan
How they finished: Lost in five games to the New York Rangers in the conference quarterfinals
Coach: Mike Johnston (2nd season)
Notable additions: C Eric Fehr, LW Sergei Plotnikov, C Matt Cullen, RW Phil Kessel, C Nick Bonino
Notable subtractions: RW Craig Adams, LW Blake Comeau, RW Steve Downie, D Christian Ehrhoff, G Thomas Greiss, C Maxim Lapierre, D Paul Martin, C Daniel Winnik, C Brandon Sutter
Schedule against the Capitals: Wed. Oct. 28 at Washington, Mon. Dec. 14 at Pittsburgh, Sun. Jan 24 at Washington, Sun. Mar. 20 at Pittsburgh, Thu. Apr. 7 at Washington
Outlook: Despite making the playoffs last season, it would be fair to say it was a down year for Pittsburgh. General manager Jim Rutherford made a few head-scratching trades (giving up a first-round draft pick in a deal for David Perron? Really?) to try and bolster a lineup that just wasn't gelling in Mike Johnston's first year as head coach.
After an early exit from the playoffs, it now looks like the Penguins are thinking clearly again.
In one of the biggest trades of the offseason, Pittsburgh brought in Phil Kessel to help bolster what was a surprisingly sluggish offense last year (19th in goals per game).
Kessel's acquisition has sparked a debate over whether he should play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Though we will probably see him play with both over the course of the season, my guess is that he will primarily play with Crosby. Combining Crosby's playmaking abilities with Kessel's scoring is a hard combination to pass up, though Kessel will have to develop a more predictable style of play as opposed to the instinctual style he used in Toronto. It may seem weird, but not being the focal point of the offense in Pittsburgh will take some adjusting on Kessel's part.
In addition to Kessel, the Penguins also added Eric Fehr, Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino and signed Sergei Plotnikov from the KHL. You never know exactly what to expect from a player coming from the KHL who has never played in the NHL before, but Plotnikov is a top-six caliber forward and putting him on the wing next to Malkin could help ease his transition.
As improved as the Penguins may look offensively, their defense is a concern. Kris Letang says he is healthy, but after suffering a scary looking concussion that ended his season in March, it's hard to know what to expect from him. Olli Maata also had a rough year with two surgeries on the same shoulder.
And that is the team's top pairing.
Derrick Pouliot is a young up-and-coming defenseman, but at 21, the Penguins should not rely too heavily on him. Paul Martin signed with San Jose in the offseason, Rob Scuderi is nearly 37 and continues to decline and Ben Lovejoy played poorly after being traded to Pittsburgh from Anaheim during the season.
On paper, it looks like a solid collection of talent, but they need to stay healthy and play up to their potential.
Expectations: The Penguins are going to be explosive offensively again and that should be enough to get them out of the wild card and into the division's top three. It's hard to imagine an offense of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist not being able to carry this team into the postseason regardless of how the team looks on the blue line. The defense can't be that bad.
But despite how good this team looks on paper or how easily they may coast into the playoffs, I don't see them challenging for the conference and the reason lies behind the bench.
Johnston, a coach who had never been an NHL head coach prior to his time in Pittsburgh, seemed like a curious hire last summer for a team that boasted superstar players like Crosby and Malkin. His first season as coach was not particularly inspiring and he seemed powerless to stop the Penguins' late season swoon that almost saw them miss the playoffs entirely.
To be fair, Pittsburgh had a lot of injury issues and it might not be entirely fair to judge Johnston on that one season alone, but when the playoffs roll around, has he shown that he can out-coach Alain Vigneault, Barry Trotz, Jon Cooper or Michel Therrien?
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