The first couple of weeks of the NHL season are a dangerous time for the hot take industry because there is a lot of noise that takes place early in the year. When you have nothing else to compare a player or team to it gets really easy to jump to conclusions and make bold statements that will probably end up looking dumb four months later. So let’s not do that, especially after one game.
... if you entered the 2019-20 season having some concerns and questions about this Pittsburgh Penguins team (and given how many pieces are returning, especially on defense, those concerns and questions are VALID) then the season opening 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres was probably not fun because all of the questions and concerns you may have had were on full display for everyone to see.
It was not great!
If you are looking for bright spots, you can bet that Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, and Brian Dumoulin will not play as poorly as they did in the opener. That can — and will — change things. The rest of the team? Well, who really knows.
It is the first Friday of the season so it is time for our first weekly installment of the Penguins’ stock report.
Who Is Up
Matt Murray — Thank goodness for him on Thursday because that game could have very easily turned into a laugher. He stopped 38 shots, had to bail out his defense on a couple of breakaways, and was just simply very good in net, picking right up where he left off starting with his return from injury in mid-December. The Penguins are going to need him to be great this year, and the opener was a strong start even in defeat.
Brandon Tanev — I made a commitment at the end of training camp to give this signing a chance, and dammit, I am going to give it a chance. Maybe it is setting a low bar, but he was one of the very few — and I do mean VERY FEW — bright spots on Thursday against Buffalo. He looked fast (which really stands out on this team), he drew some penalties, and he had one of the few decent looks during 5-on-5 play. The contract is still bonkers, maybe he wasn’t needed, but I am open the idea that I could have been wrong about him as a player.
Who Is Not
Mike Sullivan — Maybe this did not matter. Maybe it is stupid to think about. But let me see if I have this right...
All preseason and training camp the Penguins’ defense was lined up for Jack Johnson to be an extra and not play.
All preseason and training camp Patric Hornqvist was skating on the third line.
All preseason and training camp you had Marcus Pettersson and Justin Schultz working together, and apparently working well together.
Then as soon as the regular season begins all of that goes into a blender and you have Jack Johnson with Justin Schultz, you have Patric Hornqvist on the first line, you have players playing next to each other in a real game after getting no practice time or preseason time together.
Am struggling to find the benefit or the logic here.
The Defense — Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin are supposed to be the rocks for this unit and even they struggled badly. They have the minus-two hanging around them in the opener, and that will obviously get the attention, but let’s not ignore the rest of this group. Just because their mistakes did not end up in the back of net does not mean they did not happen. Erik Gudbranson looked like Vancouver Erik Gudbranson. Jack Johnson only played 14 minutes (by far the lowest ice time among blue-liners) but he and Schultz looked brutal together. Schultz was a non-factor. Pettersson was invisible. Just a tough, tough, tough night. This is still my biggest question with this team because it is basically the same unit that was not anywhere near good enough a year ago, and they just simply doubled down on it and are hoping the same cast of players will be better.