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PHN Answers: The 5 Burning Questions Penguins Fans Are Asking

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kasperi Kapanen New Jersey Devils

There may not have ever been a victory that has rattled a fan base in the same way as the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-6 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena. Head coach Mike Sullivan admittedly didn’t know how to react. Fans shared the shock and added a healthy dose of fear that the win was a harbinger of bad things to come.

Was it a bad moon rising, or will the Penguins be a fortunate son?

What are the most pressing questions burning through PHN readers? So, we asked, and you obliged. Since every writer, good and bad, does a mailbag segment, we thought we would do the same but camouflage it with a pithy headline.

Here we go.

5 Pittsburgh Penguins Questions

5.

Anything is possible, but you probably saw the three weeks of blistering play before each was injured. Kasperi Kapanen made Evgeni Malkin faster. Malkin made Kapanen something pretty close to a power forward.

We’ll assume Sidney Crosby won’t slack off. And Teddy Blueger won’t slack off. Our bet is the Malkin and Kapanen returns will invigorate the team.

The time of year will help, too. The Penguins will face a Stanley Cup contender in Round One. If they relax because Malkin is back, they deserve to lose.

4.

Let’s not let one bad period define Jarry. Before Tuesday, Jarry had a .935 save percentage at even strength since Feb. 14. Even strength play is the strongest indicator of playoff strength.

Also, Jarry went toe-to-toe, or save-for-save, with future Hall-of-Famer Carey Price in Game 4 of the Qualifying Round against the Montreal Canadiens. With the Penguins season on the line, Jarry was great, though the team in front of him was ready to pack up and go home.

The moment was not too big for Jarry. If there is one player for whom Tuesday could be a wake-up call, Jarry would be tops on my list. Jarry became complacent and loose. He may even go through a little dip in the final 11 games, but that’s not the end of the world. You’re most likely to get THE Jarry in Game 1.

Compared to the last few years, the Penguins’ superior goaltending and defense give them a much better chance than they’ve had since 2017.

3.

The 16 win question, isn’t it? The Pittsburgh Penguins do seem to be more brittle or injury prone than other teams. One of the biggest differences between 2016/2017 and the previous five years was having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both in the lineup. That was a rarity between 2009 and 2016.

The spate of Penguins injuries may bode well for playoff time. Malkin, Kapanen, and Brandon Tanev did not finish the 14 games in 23 days run, nor will they have been through the worst of the last 13 games in 21 days.

Those big guns figure to be much fresher than the players who have been through the grind.

Can they stay healthy? Call it injury roulette, because the Pittsburgh Penguins will lose another player or two. It’s just a matter of who.

2.

First, no, Sullivan doesn’t seem to get the annual recognition or love for the Jack Adams award. That honor is given to one of the stalwart coaches who everyone knows is better because everyone knows they’re better, or the annual surprise team. Did anyone pick the Florida Panthers to be near the top of the Central Division? Joel Quenneville would check both boxes.

John Hynes looked like a bad hire in Nashville until they surged into the playoff picture. Could he hit ’em with the Hein? And, Sheldon Keefe finally has the Toronto Maple Leafs on the right track. Doing a good job in Toronto is usually a good recipe for recognition. Jared Bednar in Colorado, as well as Pete DeBoer in Vegas, are candidates to watch, too.

IF everyone gets healthy, the Penguins look like they could be dynamite. Here’s a cursory look at what the Penguins lines could look like:

Guentzel-Crosby-Rust

Zucker-Malkin-Kapanen

McCann-Carter-Rodrigues

Aston-Reese–Blueger–Tanev

Does anyone have a problem with that? As PHN wrote a couple of weeks ago, there isn’t a better four-line wave in the NHL than that. We wonder if Sullivan put McCann on the LW with Carter to keep him there when Malkin returned. Otherwise, we would put McCann with Malkin and Zucker in the LW with Carter.

1.

I’ve really come to like Nathan Legare in the NHL game more than Sam Poulin. However, I’ve not seen either play since December. Early in the QMJHL season, Poulin was clearly dealing with something, probably the disappointment of being cut from Team Canada. He had a sluggish start.

We haven’t heard glowing reports about the situation in Val d’Or where both Poulin and Legare were traded. Despite a stacked team, both are scoring at a lesser rate than last season.

At the NHL level, I see Legare as eagerly willing to do the gritty things while Poulin has — to this point — been a perimeter player when in a Pittsburgh Penguins sweater. He’s not that way in the Q, so there’s hope. In training camp (last year), Legare threw a couple of reverse hits in the corner and had a chip on his shoulder that Poulin did not.

Poulin’s shot has seemed soft during my in-person viewings, whereas Legare’s wrister can bruise a goalie’s leg through the pads. Legare has also modified his skating stride for the better.

Defenseman P.O. Joseph is easily the most likely prospect to play in the NHL next season.

If you want a sleeper to watch, 2020 fifth-round pick RW Raivis Ansons. He has a real chance to develop into an NHL player. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound winger lept off the screen when we did our video scouting of Nathan Legare during the pandemic. We’ve spoken to his former coaches in Baie-Comeau and his Latvia national coaches several times. Consistency and drive are key issues, but if he matures, he’s got a chance. When he’s on his game, he’s one of those players who the puck finds.

I’m a little offended you had to ask about drafting philosophy. Here’s why you love me–I did ask Hextall that very question when he was announced the Chris Pryor as AGM hire. Since I was hoping you could read more PHN stories, you have to click here to go back and read the Hextall story. He answered with specificity. Please and thanks.

Hextall wants players with “will.” But go back and read the whole thing. It was Grade A informative.

Bonus:

For the unhip, that’s HIMYM = How I Met Your Mother.

And, yes. The Friends rip-off was much better than the comic tropes, obvious punchlines, and Sitcom constraints of its precursor, Friends. Also, Jason Segel > David Schwimmer. HIMYM was often melancholy and laughed through the pain, which added credibility. Though with #MeToo, the cringy Barney Stinson character holds up like 10-ply TP in a rainstorm.

Hey, my mailbag, my rules. Thanks for helping out!

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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