Pittsburgh Penguins season preview: Offseason acquisitions fuel team’s expectations
Plus: Pittsburgh created the biggest splash of the summer by acquiring Phil Kessel from Toronto in a blockbuster deal. The five-time, 30-goal scorer will be paired with two-time Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby on the team’s top line and adds to the club’s already potent power play. Evgeni Malkin enjoyed immediate chemistry with Patric Hornqvist in 2014-15, and the two haven’t missed a beat in the preseason with former Kontinental Hockey League forward Sergei Plotnikov on the second line.
Minus: While the Penguins focused on adding depth to their bottom-tier forwards, they didn’t feel the need to do the same with their defensive corps. After first pair blue-liners Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh will rely on Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin to log significant minutes. The cupboard gets bare in a hurry as veterans Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy are major downgrades from the departed Paul Martin (San Jose) and Christian Ehrhoff (Los Angeles).
X-Factor: Kris Letang
Letang traditionally leads the Penguins in ice time and his ability to move the puck allows Crosby and company to work their magic. The problem stems when injuries — or a more severe medical situation (stroke) — creep into the life of the 28-year-old Letang, who has missed 89 games in the last three seasons. With Letang sidelined with a concussion, the Penguins appeared out of sync and mustered little en route to being ousted by the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
Prediction: The offseason acquisitions of forwards Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino will provide additional depth for coach Mike Johnston. Pittsburgh will secure a playoff berth for the 10th straight season, but the lack of depth on the blue line will prove to be its undoing in another first-round-and-out performance.