The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the top clubs in the NHL over the last decade. Robbie Naugle from SB Nation’s Pensburgh is here to talk all about those Penguins, the Stanley Cup, and even a little bit about our favourite former defenceman Justin Schultz. Let’s dive right in.
COPPER AND BLUE: Starting off at a respectable 5-3-1, only the Devils (!) lead the Penguins in the Metropolitan division. From a distance, the backup goaltending position seems to be one of great weakness. Antti Niemi and his .798 SV% were waived on Monday, what are this team's options in net after Matt Murray?
PENSBURGH: With Niemi out of the picture the obvious move to replace him was a call up from the AHL and that's exactly the route the team decided to take. Top goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry looks NHL ready but they want him playing games not sitting on the bench in a backup role to Murray. Instead they recalled Jarry's partner Casey DeSmith to take over backup duties in the NHL. DeSmith is no slouch and has made a strong case for the call up with his steady play in the minors. So far this season, DeSmith is 3-0-0 with a .98 GAA. This will be DeSmith's first stint in the NHL and is the easiest move for the team to make to ensure a new backup is in place while not sacrificing playing time for Jarry. If this was a simple injury replacement then Jarry would make more sense but this looks like it could be a long term solution so DeSmith gets the nod.
COPPER AND BLUE: Tell us about Justin Schultz. It was five short years ago that we hailed his signing in Edmonton. Three short years after that, he was traded for a third round pick and some Otravin. Now that he's a two time Stanley Cup champion, how's he holding up for your squad?
PENSBURGH: Since coming over from Edmonton (thanks for that by the way) Schultz has played a huge part in the Penguins' success the last two seasons. He earned himself a one year "prove it" contract after the 2015-2016 season and his play after last season earned him a three year deal. Without Letang during last year's Cup run Schultz stepped up and delivered every way he could. He scored the game winning goal in Game 4 against the Capitals and soaked up huge minutes that would typically be taken by Letang. Due to the talent around him the Pens can afford to shelter him a bit more than he was in Edmonton. Schultz isn't a number one defenseman and in Pittsburgh he doesn't have to be. A great fit for both parties.
COPPER AND BLUE: Tell us about a Penguin who's ready for a breakout season.
PENSBURGH: There weren't many new faces on the roster this year and the ones who were are already NHL veterans. Even the young guys have already had their "break out" moments. It will be interesting to see what Jake Guentzel does with a full NHL season alongside Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary on the top line. The biggest names to keep an eye out for are Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. Both are currently in the AHL and Sprong cannot stop scoring. There is a good chance both are playing in the NHL at some point this season, especially Sprong. Aston-Reese is primarily a center and could be a solution to the Pens center ice woes if they do not improve.
COPPER AND BLUE: 23 year old Jake Guentzel is teamed up with some guy named Sidney Crosby and Connor Sheary on the top line. Tell us a little about Guentzel, and how did he a cushy spot next to 87?
PENSBURGH: Unless you were paying close attention to the Pens at the start of last season then Jake Guentzel came out of nowhere for you. Penguins' fans were aware of his skill set and what he could potentially bring to the table. He made his NHL debut in November and scored two goal against the Rangers on his first two shots. As a rookie he led the playoffs with 13 goals and was fourth in points with 21 in 25 games played. Guentzel just clicked with Crosby and along with Sheary became one of the most potent lines in the NHL the second half of the year. Watching his game he thinks a lot like Crosby and has a knack to find open space which is all Crosby needs to get him the puck. All that on top of his finishing ability makes him a dangerous weapon on the top line.
COPPER AND BLUE: Finally, the Penguins are going to come out of the East again, right? Barring some sort of second coming, the Penguins are going to finish atop their Division and make it to the Cup Finals again, yeah?
PENSBURGH: Oh, absolutely, 100%. Already bought my Final tickets. All kidding aside it's not going to be easy. They had a target on their backs last season but now it's even larger being back-to-back champions. The Eastern Conference is incredibly strong once again so it's going to be a grind if they want a shot at third straight Stanley Cup. Seven games into the season and they have already been throttled twice by the Lightning, the Capitals are still strong, Toronto looks ready to compete, and there are sure a be a surprise or two along the way. If they can win with the injuries they suffered last year they can surely do it again this year but it will be much tougher. All the key pieces are still in place so they should be right in the mix when spring rolls around.