CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the 2023-24 season on a wave of enthusiasm and positive energy that was almost palpable.
Changes to the front office — specifically, the arrival of Kyle Dubas as president of hockey operations and general manager — and adding the likes of Erik Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Ryan Graves, among others, to the roster infused the organization with a vigor and sense of optimism that had largely been missing for most of the past few years.
That, of course, was before the Penguins stumbled to a 2-3 start, despite opening the season against five opponents that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
Before it became clear the Penguins had not purged a penchant for allowing odd-man breaks from their defensive game. Before an imposing power play — on paper, anyway — was shut out four times in five games. Before their bottom-six forwards needed nearly five full games to manufacture a goal.
Before a performance during a 4-2 loss in St. Louis Saturday night that coach Mike Sullivan said he would need time to “digest.” It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that he ended up chugging a gallon of antiacid while doing so.