Welcome to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2022-23 season. The 55th season for the franchise.
This year starts after a bitter Game 7 loss to the division rivals the NY Rangers, losing a 3-1 series lead in the series and only having Tristan Jarry for 1 game. With that difficult of a loss, I fully expected the offseason to be a retool and the end of the Crosby-Malkin-LeTang era. General Manager Ron Hextall surprised me in not only bringing back Kris LeTang and Evgeni Malkin, but also signing both Bryan Rust and perhaps most importantly Rickard Rakell. Hextall did make significant changes to the defensive pairings letting go John Marino and Mike Matheson for two bigger defensemen in Jeff Petry from Montreal and Jan Rutta from the TB Lightning.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph (POJ) the first-round draft pick from the 2017 draft will finally start the season on the bottom pairing. This will give POJ his first real chance to prove he has what it takes to be a full-time defenseman in the NHL. If he doesn’t work out, we have Ty Smith waiting in the wings. Ty Smith is a young kid with some potential that we got from the NJ Devils and is more out of the Matheson mold of offense first. He will drive you nuts. I see the direction Hextall is going in, bigger defensemen harder to play against, bigger bodies that can’t be easily checked off the puck.
There are certainly some things to be concerned about
- Age of the team – I expect the age of this team to catch up at some point during the season. The play at times will look uninspired. Having Rakell and Jake together on the first line should add some new energy that should make that line lots of fun to watch. The second line needs a healthy start from Jason Zucker. His style if more geared towards knocking people off the puck and stealing it than keeping the puck away. Also having Rusty playing with Geno hopefully that gets Geno off to a fast start. The third line completely hinges on the play of our old friend Kasperi Kapanen. Kappy is back and he has the talent, but will he decide to drive to the net this year or will it be the same old buttonhook to the boards? On the 4th line, Josh Archibald should provide a bang every time he hits the ice. Together with Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn they should be a steady presence and will most likely also be part of the penalty kill.
There are some fun Milestones & events to look forward to:
- The Penguins are teasing a reboot of a fan favorite the Robo Penguins Jersey. I happen to hate this jersey and was thrilled when they killed that pigeon. However, I know it’s popular and new shirt unveilings are always fun even if you don’t particularly like the style.
- Geno only has 19 more game to reach 1,000 games played in the NHL. That could happen in Chicago on November 20th.
- Kris LeTang only needs 89 games this season to reach the same plateau. His game could happen Feb 26th at home versus the Tamp Bay Lightning.
- The game of the year will be the Winter Classic where the Pens will challenge the Boston Bruins at historic Fenway on January 2nd, 2023. The Winter Classic is a great venue and gets more viewers than a normal game because it’s the only one played that day. It takes me back to Buffalo in the first Winter Classic, an outdoor game hopefully with snow always provides a great backdrop for the game.
- Season ending injuries – this team is thin and any significant injury would mean that Sam Poulin or Mark Friedman would be pressed into every night duties. This would be a disaster for the Penguins. They just aren’t deep like years past.
- Tristan Jarry - Jarry has proven since the departure of Matt Murray that he can play at a high level during the season. He is a two time all-star. In his first two full seasons with the Pens his goals against average (GAA) dropped from 2.75 to 2.42 and save percentage climbed from .909 to .919, and win number of wins went from 25 wins in 39 starts to 34 wins in 58 games last year. He has what it takes to get this team the playoffs. The question for me is does Jarry have what it takes to start stealing some games. Can he become THAT goalie who says I’m taking the game over. I’ve got this. If Jarry can become this goalie there is much more to be excited about than just making the playoffs. But that’s another article for another day.
Let's go Pens!
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