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Penguins primer: Everything you need to know as the team opens the 2021-22 season

The Ringer 12 October, 2021 - 01:20pm

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have made the NHL postseason for 15 straight seasons. Their quest for a 16th consecutive appearance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when they open the season at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And they’ll do it without superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby is closer to returning after undergoing wrist surgery on Aug. 31, while Malkin is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season after having knee surgery in June.

This season will include the debut of the expansion Seattle Kraken, plus the return of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, albeit with a new team after being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Key departures: Forward Jared McCann (traded to Toronto Maple Leafs); forward Branon Tanev (taken in expansion draft by Seattle Kraken); forward Frederick Gaudreau (signed as a free agent with Minnesota Wild); defenseman Cody Ceci (signed as a free agent with Edmonton Oilers)

Key additions: Forward Brock McGinn (signed for four years, $11 million); forward Danton Heinen (signed for one year, $1.1 million)

Here’s everything you need to know about the Penguins as the puck is about to be dropped on the 2021-22 season:

• Position preview, left wings: Jake Guentzel’s spot on the top line is secure despite a third consecutive postseason with limited production.

Read more: Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker lead the Penguins from the left wing

• Position preview, right wings: Kasperi Kapanen and Bryan Rust wound up on lines they weren’t expected on, but it wound up working out for the Penguins.

Read more: Bryan Rust, Kasperi Kapanen flipped the script with the Penguins’ right wingers

• Position preview, centers: Injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start the season will create new opportunities for centers in the Penguins organization.

Read more: Penguins’ center depth will be tested early

• Forward Danton Heinen, who signed as a free agent this offseason, has bounced between the Penguins’ top line and third line this preseason, with his versatility in the lineup already proving to be a benefit.

Read more: Forward Danton Heinen ready for multiple roles with the Penguins

• Brock McGinn, the Penguins’ most prominent offseason acquisition, is no Brandon Tanev. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Read more: Can Penguins forward Brock McGinn be more than Brandon Tanev’s replacement?

• It’s been about a decade since Jeff Carter served as a No. 1 center, but that’s where he’ll start the season with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin injured.

Read more: Jeff Carter steps in as Penguins’ top center

• It took some time for Kasperi Kapanen to develop chemistry with the Penguins last season, but with the benefit of a full camp, Kapanen’s ceiling could be much higher this year.

Read more: Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen comfortable with a bigger role

• Penguins forward Jason Zucker was frank about last year: “Last year was awful, to be honest. I didn’t like my game at all.” But he feels much better about his game so far this year.

Read more: Penguins forward Jason Zucker ready to move past ‘awful’ season

• Even though Brian Boyle didn’t play in the NHL last season, he didn’t think his career was over, so he was appreciative of the chance to prove that with the Penguins.

Read more: Brian Boyle grateful for another chance at the NHL with the Penguins

• Forward Dominik Simon was just as shocked as the team’s fan base that the Penguins brought him back after a year away.

Read more: Being back with the Penguins ‘amazing’ for Dominik Simon

• At the dawn of his second pro season, Drew O’Connor has a better grasp of what it takes to reach the NHL — and stay there.

Read more: Penguins forward Drew O’Connor is better prepared entering his 2nd season

• Forwards Anthony Angello, Brian Boyle and Drew O’Connor will potentially add some much-needed size to the Penguins’ lineup.

Read more: Size isn’t everything for the Penguins, but it’s becoming a bigger deal

• Position preview, right defense: Kris Letang and John Marino should occupy the top two spots, but the other starter will be different this year after Cody Ceci signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

Read more: Kris Letang still feels right on the Penguins’ blue line

• Position preview, left defense: Brian Dumoulin is a lock as the top defenseman on the left side, with Marcus Pettersson and Mike Matheson likely to hold the other two spots.

Read more: Brian Dumoulin remains the standard on the left side of the Penguins’ blue line

• Defenseman Marcus Pettersson wasn’t happy with his performance last season, so this summer was about resetting and working hard to meet his own high expectations.

Read more: Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson ready to take ‘that next step’

• Position preview: Tristan Jarry expects to rebound this season, with Casey DeSmith returning as his backup.

Read more: Tristan Jarry vowed to be better for the Penguins. Will he?

• A revamping of the Penguins’ goaltending coaches puts a greater emphasis on the position and those who coach it. Could that shakeup pay benefits for Tristan Jarry, who struggled in the last postseason?

Read more: Will Penguins goalie coaching changes pay off for Tristan Jarry?

• With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin injured to start the season, the Penguins will need a lot of breaks to make the postseason for the 16th consecutive season.

Read more: Given the Penguins’ injuries, here’s what must go right to keep the team’s playoff streak intact

• The Penguins have plenty of problems, but the team’s biggest issue is goaltending.

Read more: Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry has to earn back trust

• Injuries to their top two players, plus a strong Metropolitan conference, might set up the Penguins for a rough season.

Read more: Dominoes falling unfavorably for Penguins season

• The Penguins might need to slow it down and trap, at least until Sidney Crosby returns.

Read more: Mike Sullivan needs to compromise on Penguins’ system

• If ever a team needed an injection of youthful legs and adrenaline, it’s the current version of the Penguins.

Read more: Penguins need to get younger, but prospects are limited

• The expectation of winning the Stanley Cup hasn’t changed in Pittsburgh, despite not winning a single playoff series in the past three years.

Read more: Like normal, the Penguins still believe they are contenders

• In the early stages of the season, the Penguins’ power play will have a drastically different look without its two superstar centers.

Read more: What will Penguins’ power play look like without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?

• The Penguins have already had Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese miss time in the preseason because of covid restrictions. The franchise is prepared for another unusual season.

Read more: Penguins ready to deal with another ‘covid season’

• Thirteen of the Penguins’ games will be exclusive to national outlets this season.

Read more: Penguins announce TV schedule

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