Why the Penguins Will be Better This Season
By Patrick Hoffman
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, the Pittsburgh Penguins have failed to make it past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In 2018, the Washington Capitals beat them in six games in the second round to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 1998 season. The Pens played well in the series, but clearly, the Caps were destined to win it all that season.
In last year's postseason, the Penguins were flat out awful in being swept by the New York Islanders. Yes, the Islanders had a great season last year, but with the amount of experience the Penguins' have had in the postseason, one would have figured that they would have put forth a much better effort than they did.
That leads us to the upcoming season. One has to wonder how they are going to be after two early exits in the playoffs and the absence of Phil Kessel since he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes.
For starters, I think things will be better in the locker room than they have in year's past due to the fact that Kessel is no longer there. Obviously, I am not a member of the Penguins' media or anything like that, but it was pretty clear that Kessel was no longer happy in Pittsburgh.
With Kessel gone, there should be me more positivity in the room. This should hopefully lead to success on the ice.
I also think the Penguins will be better because of their starting goaltender, Matt Murray. If Murray can stay healthy, he has shown that he can be one of the better goaltenders in the league.
Last year, Murray, 25, went 29-14-6 with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage, and four shutouts. His career numbers are now 155-97-42 with a 2.62 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and 10 shutouts.
With that said, Murray needs to stay healthy. There is no doubt that he is one of the more fragile netminders in the league so he needs to shake that label and be able to stay between the pipes.
I think the Penguins will also be better this season because they still have a lot of offensive talent and depth. With guys like Sidney Crosby (35-60-100 last season), Evgeni Malkin (21-51-72 last season); Jake Guentzel (40-36-76 last season), and Patrick Hornqvist (18-19-37 last season), there is no doubt that this team will be able to put the puck in the net.
Speaking of this team's offense, they now have Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk, 25, who came over in the Kessel trade, has shown that he has a lot of offensive potential, but he has yet to fully reach it.
Last season, Galchenyuk had 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in 72 games. While those are not exactly great numbers, he has shown that he can put the puck in the net, set up his teammates, and make things happen with the puck.
For Galchenyuk, it will be about putting everything together. May be playing with someone like Crosby or Malkin will bring out the best in him.
Lastly, this club still has head coach Mike Sullivan behind the bench. Sullivan's leadership and ability to adapt helped this franchise win two straight Cups.
Two weeks ago, Sullivan was given a 4-year-extension by the club. This shows that the franchise still believes in him and that they feel that he is still the right guy to lead this team.
Will the Penguins win the Cup next season? I'm not sure that will happen, but what I do know is that they will be better this season than they were last season.
Patrick covers the NHL for The Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave.
He has previously covered the league for WTP Sports, Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.