One of the best parts about SB Nation is that we have easy access to hockey fans from all other teams. Another one of the best parts is that none of us really take ourselves too seriously. This week we are taking a look at how the other members of the new MassMutual NHL East Division feel about the season and the specific situation on their team.
The Pittsburgh Penguins with Jim Rixner from PensBurgh
How strong do you think this year’s Penguins team is?
Great question and the answer is...I don’t really think anyone knows. The top-6 forward group is really deep and talented. The top-4 defense is super solid. The lower lines and pairs are a lot of meh and leave something to be desired. I think the forwards will be fine because the Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger- Brandon Tanev line is usually listed as a “fourth” line, but they play third line minutes and do really well as a shutdown defensive line. But they don’t have the offensive skill to score a lot. So the big question is can the top lines carry the weight, do the damage and use skill advantages to go for a 15th straight playoff berth? I guess it’s a decent plan, but a key injury or two (on a team that tends to have injury issues) could be devastating. The Pens’ power play also slumped to 16th in the league last season, which is not a good place to be for a skilled team, power play needs to be a real advantage. That will need to improve.
How do you think the new division will shake out?
The conventional wisdom seems to be Boston and Washington at the top, and then a wide variety of possibilities with the Pens, Flyers, Islanders and maybe Rangers all going for the last two spots and Buffalo and NJ at the back of the pack. I really believe though since it’s a short season, empty buildings, something unconventional and unforeseen is going to happen. But I also can’t tell you right now in January what that will be (not helpful!). Just watch — it will be something like the Pens and Flyers finishing 1-2 in the division, or Buffalo making the playoffs or the Caps missing it (let’s all hope, huh?), but I’m telling you...I bet something zany that no one is really calling right now WILL happen beyond just the boring “the Islanders always do better than they should”. Which maybe that’s the surprise is this year the Islanders black magic finally implodes and they finish in last place.
Are we in for any surprises with the 2020-21 Penguins? Any new names we should look out for?
Not too many surprises. The Pens think that Kasperi Kapanen will be an answer on the top line, it remains to be seen how that is going to work. It’s off to a not great start, as immigration issues delayed his entry to the country and he probably won’t be playing in the first couple games as he quarantines and all. The Pens have only had Jason Zucker for a handful of games, despite acquiring him almost a calendar year ago. I’m really excited to watch him play more with Pittsburgh, he’s a very, very solid player and has fit in great with the Crosby line or Malkin line at times. Youngster Sam Lafferty is a player that will catch your eye with his speed, but his advanced numbers last year weren’t impressive. Still, I think he has a little bit of ability and hands to go along with a really high motor and energy, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can build into playing a little better and becoming a regular.
How confident are you in the goaltending situation? Are you absolutely sure Tristan Jarry is good?
I’m pretty confident. Jarry is at least a good goalie. No one really knows how it’s going to go now that he’s the No. 1 and “the guy” for the first time, but all signs are positive. He’s good at handling the puck, his form and technique at camp has reportedly been very strong.
Also this is totally intangible, but I think Jarry is in a great spot mentally. In the later years, Matt Murray had an aura around him like he was fighting a losing battle and just waiting for the bottom to drop out, allow some bad goals, get gruff about it and be guarded and cautious. Just my take, but it was a stressed outlook/attitude from Murray a lot of times. Murray went 1-8 in his last nine playoff games and lost the last three playoff series from 2018 on, so that familiar negative creeping feeling seemed to weigh heavy on him in key moments. Jarry is way different in that regard, feels more loose and confident, his personality just seems equipped to handle this. We’ll see how long it lasts or if it translates, though.
Codi Ceci? Can you confirm, more like Caca Peepee?
Can confirm. I honestly think that Ceci won’t be a huge issue if they can keep him sheltered on the third pair. He actually seemed OK in that role in Toronto last year, just got in trouble when Tyson Barrie was bad and the coaches elevated Ceci and that just can’t happen. Good thing Kris Letang and John Marino never get hurt so that won’t happen in Pittsb.....Oh, wait. Oh, no.
But, seriously, Ceci has very low expectations. It’s easy to out-perform them when really all he has to do is clear the bar of Jack Johnson (who was literally the worst regular player in the NHL for the last two seasons, lol). Ceci isn’t going to do a lot, but just be better than the worst. Is that too much to ask? But Mike Matheson (aka a high turnover player who is also a reclamation project) and Ceci on the third pair is going to be very scary, unless they can prove otherwise.