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Sullivan: Zucker to Start With Sid, Penguins Must ‘Play to (their) Identity’

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Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan

To no one’s surprise, newly acquired Jason Zucker will begin his Pittsburgh Penguins tenure with Sidney Crosby after the Penguins trade for Zucker late Monday evening. Though, it may be a surprise that head coach Mike Sullivan, who is reticent to share lineup details publicly, was willing to admit it during a press conference on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday night, the Jason Zucker era with the Pittsburgh Penguins is expected to begin as Sullivan confirmed they expect Zucker is expected to arrive on Tuesday afternoon and be in the lineup as the Penguins host the Tampa Bay Lightning. Perhaps Zucker will have a more relaxed arrival than the tense Feb. 1, 2019 transit of Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad, who arrived at the arena via police escort moments before the opening faceoff and didn’t meet their new teammates until the national anthem.

“We really like (Zucker’s) speed, his overall game, his ability to shoot the puck,” Sullivan said. “He’s another one of those guys we think we can use in a top-six capacity to make us a better hockey team.”

The Penguins have been middling since top-line winger Jake Guentzel was lost for the remainder of the regular season, and beyond, to shoulder surgery. Even after Sidney Crosby returned to the Penguins lineup on Jan. 14, the Penguins haven’t been the same team. Not even close.

“I don’t think we’ve played with the consistency as of late that we have shown for most of this year,” Sullivan said. “That’s something that we’ve talked about internally with our players and trying to get back to playing consistent hockey that has brought us success.”

While Sullivan steered clear of the second part of PHN’s question about a morale boost, the Penguins trade certainly can’t hurt. It must have been tough to watch Alex Galchenyuk mired in the worst season of his career with no end in sight. New blood brings excitement and fresh air.

After the onslaught of injuries and bad news which the Penguins have endured this season, the good news becomes great news.

“I think the addition of Jason and adding him to our lineup will help us (regain consistency),” Sullivan said. “He’s a real good player. He’s going to make us a stronger team.”

Zucker has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last three seasons, including 33 goals in 2017-18. He has 14 goals and counting this season.

Playing with Crosby should add a few more markers on the stat sheet, too.

“We’re excited that Jason is going to become part of this group. We’re excited that about the group we have,” Sullivan continued. “But now we’ve got to go out and earn it each and every night. And we’ve got to make sure to play to the identity that we’ve established…”

The 5-foot-11, 183-pound LW should help the Penguins do all of the above. His speed and tenacity kept the Penguins trade hopes on the hook for months. Now it’s a reality, and the Zucker era in Pittsburgh begins.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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