Pens Want to Send Early Message, More Will be Necessary

The Pens open the season against three teams that have a legitimate shot at hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup nine months from now.

Embed from Getty Images

The Penguins aren’t taking the ice this season as the NHL’s defending champs, but they’re nonetheless determined to make an appropriate splash.

“We want to send a message that we’re still there and we still want to win more Stanley Cups,” defenseman Kris Letang announced in advance of the season opener against the Washington Capitals. “We’re gonna come in there with a chip on our shoulder and try to regain what we lost.”

This time the Caps are the team that won Cup last season, having finally pried it from the grasp of a Penguins team that had been in hot pursuit of a three-peat.

Following the resumption of hostilities with Washington and all the color and pageantry of opening night, the Pens will host the NHL’s most-storied franchise, the Montreal Canadiens, on Saturday, and then Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 11 (no word yet as to the route of the Fleury parade or the location and unveiling of the Fleury statue).

The Pens couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity make a season-opening statement, to send the season-opening message Letang referenced.

“You have a goalie like Matt Murray, guys like ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno' up front to lead us, you always have a chance to win,” Letang maintained.

The Pens’ chances are indeed promising, thanks first and foremost to the presence of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Murray.

But even that wasn’t enough last season against Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby.

The Caps’ finally finding a way to get past the Penguins last season, and their presence in Pittsburgh to start this season should serve as a sobering reminder to even the most optimistic of Penguins followers.

Nothing is guaranteed.

Particularly in a league that annually reshuffles the deck at the trade deadline, and in a game that is so often determined by bounces, breaks and the sometimes seemingly arbitrary nature of officiating, especially in the playoffs.

Having won the Cup twice recently, the Penguins appreciate how difficult it is to do it once.

Crosby and head coach Mike Sullivan are every bit as interested in sending an early-season message via the winning of early-season games as Letang, every bit as committed to winning another championship.

But the Penguins’ captain and the Penguins’ head coach are also well aware that can’t happen in October.​

Letang, presumably, is, too, his well-intentioned desire for the Penguins to announce their presence with authority in 2018-19 aside.

“I think we’re always in the conversation,” Crosby said. “It’s up to us to stay there.”

The Capitals will have something to say about that, as will the Canadiens and the Golden Knights.

So will Boston, Tampa Bay, Nashville, San Jose and a host of other teams that share the Penguins’ championship aspirations.

Added Sullivan: “I think we’re always going to be a work in progress. I’ve never been one to believe that you arrive. We’ve gotta stay in the moment. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

No matter what messages are sent or received during opening night or opening week.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section