2017 Regular Season Preview

As many of you readers may have noticed, I am an unfamiliar face who has popped up on your feed or on the website as you are perusing through the latest Penguins tidbits. Nope. I guess I’m an unfamiliar voice. Well, let me virtually introduce myself. My name is Stephanie and I am currently a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. I live deep in Sharks territory (if that even exists save for a few die-hard fans, let’s be honest) in the Silicon Valley, but of course I am a Yinzer at heart and a 412 person. I’m an imperfect person who is extremely blessed to have been saved by Jesus Christ and God the Father. In my free time I enjoy spending time with family and friends, making music (piano and vocal), shopping, getting boba and coffee, and obviously – watching my favorite teams, the Pens and the Steelers.

Now that we’re acquainted, #HereWeGo:

The 2017 offseason. Yikes. Some folks may say that the correct moves were made and that Jim Rutherford is a back-to-back champion, so there is nothing to worry about. I am inclined to agree. However, the one asset and clear difference-maker that seems unclear and has not been fully addressed is one fans are familiar with – we don’t really have a third-line center. Yes, there has been talk in the offseason and apprehension and anxiety (come on people, calm down, we just won the Cup two seasons in a row….) ever since the Amish sniper, “Mr. Bonino Bonino Bonino” opted to join the Nashville Catfish Predators organization. And this talk may indeed be something to take into consideration. I, for one, trust in the Pens organization headed by the greatest hockey player himself in Mario Lemieux and JR in making optimal decisions for the future of the team, one which may involve replacing older players with younger ones from the farm team in lieu of trading necessary space in the salary cap for a more expensive third-line option from another team. The 2016 team that won the Cup did so after many fans were on the fence and seemed willing to abandon ship after the unease and coaching change. The point is, this organization can WIN. They are basically the Warriors or Patriots of the NHL in terms of team quality and ability to rack up Ws and championships, whichever analogy you would prefer.

Now, onto the defensive corps. Let’s take a look at what we have right now. The top line is likely composed of the elite Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, who just inked a contract. We have beer-chugging, meme-brewing Justin Schultz, who was a key player in the 2017 Cup run and has shown tremendous growth. Ian Cole is gritty and has the uncanny ability to step up when it is most important. Olli Maata has shown flashes of brilliance, although he does seem to need improvement and does not have as much of an offensive presence. And on the topic of depth, veteran Matt Hunwick, AHLers Chad Ruhwedel and Derrick Pouliot, and numerous others are there. Other D-men currently on the team roster include Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Chris Summers, and Jarred Tinordi. And the Penguins just make it work. They literally “just play.” What other team would be able to succeed and win the Cup after losing so many players to injury each and every week? Don’t even think about answering that question: it’s obviously rhetorical.

We don’t need to talk about the offense. We need to thank the Lord God for them.

As for goaltending, not to worry. Jarry and Antti Niemi can hold down the fort in terms to being viable backups. Jarry with training in the AHL, and Niemi with the potential to return to Sharks form with a better team playing in front of him. And the two-time Stanley Cup Champion (as a rookie!) Matt Murray is still in net. As for Fleury, his optimism and leadership will surely be missed. However, the Pens will survive. Mercí Fleury.

This offseason, the biggest loss was not the core of the team nor the supporting cast. Sure, there were some hard hits, but they were mostly emotional ties. I for one, was devastated when I heard the news about Cully, Kunitz, Fleury, Daley, and other key players in our back-to-back title runs. But let’s think about it. Our Pittsburgh Penguins have faced numerous obstacles in each of their championship years. And when that 2017 banner is hoisted in PPG Paints Arena, we should be proud. Proud of this legendary organization with a legend for an owner, Lemieux. With the best player in current hockey, Sid. A second line consisting of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel? It’s the stuff of dreams for most hockey fans and organizations alike. Plus, the Prospects Challenge should have you highly impressed to say the least – it may seem like a radical proposition at this point, but a NHL-caliber line with Daniel Sprong and Zach Ashton-Reese is so difficult to come by in this era, especially for a team that has just won back-to-back cups. 

When the team faces the St. Louis Blues on opening night, we should be proud of our team – the adversity that the game brought just isn’t a huge concern. They have proved just that countless times in the past, and will continue to do so. Oh, and, remember the trade for Ryan Reaves? Look out folks, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Let’s raise a glass and celebrate the Penguins.