Superior skating was a key element in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup runs in 2016 and 2017.
And while some opponents eventually caught up with — or even passed — them in that regard, team speed remains the cornerstone of the Penguins’ style.
That means it figures to be a pivotal factor in determining how much success they have during the 2022-23 season, which begins with a home game against Arizona Thursday at 7:08 p.m.
“We’ve got a lot of speed on this team,” Jason Zucker said. “I think we can really get on teams quick. When we’re playing that way, that’s when we’re at our best. When we play that way, we’re hard to play against. When we’re massaging pucks and playing slow, we’re easy to play against.
“We need to use our speed to our advantage and really attack teams. That includes the forecheck, the backcheck. That includes carrying the puck on line rushes. All of the above.
“We have to let the puck do the work. As long as the puck’s moving, your legs have to move. You have to catch up to it. It moves a lot faster than you are, skating with it. We have to move pucks quick. We have to be open for our teammates. We have to get back up the ice (defensively) fast.”
Danton Heinen echoed that sentiment, volunteering that, “We’re at our best when we’re playing fast, when we’re playing with pace.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins seem certain that they’ll do that consistently during the coming season, and that they have the personnel to convert their potential into production.
“We feel confident,” Zucker said. “We’re a good group. We just have to go out and show it.”
Status quo for Blueger
Although Mike Sullivan would not rule injured fourth-line center Teddy Blueger out of the Coyotes game, Blueger still has not been cleared for contact and declined to predict when he might be able to get back in the lineup.
“I just have to stick with it, take it day-by-day,” said Blueger, who wore a gray, no-contact jersey during practice Wednesday. “Take the small improvements as they come.”
Barring a fairly miraculous recovery, Blueger will be replaced between Brock McGinn and Josh Archibald by Ryan Poehling, who never made it into an Opening Night lineup while playing for Montreal.
“My path to get here was harder than expected,” Poehling said. “But I think it shows that if you work through adversity, good things will happen to you.”
Opening Night Jitters?
Unlike Poehling, Brian Dumoulin has been through a number of Opening Nights.
Enough that he pretty much takes them in stride. Or at least that he doesn’t have to worry about being unduly nervous as they approach.
“It’s more excitement,” he said. “Especially this year, it seems like it’s been a long time. Usually, we’re one of those teams that plays one of those first nights.”
As it is, the Pittsburgh Penguins will debut on the third night of the 2022-23 season (not counting the games in Europe last week).
Although Dumoulin said he doesn’t have a strong preference for where the first game is played, he gives a slight edge to being at home.
“There’s always ceremonies and stuff on Opening Night,” he said. “If you play away, you’re usually opening for someone else, so there’s always a ceremony with that, and it takes forever. It’s nice just to get the game going.”
Sticking to it
Sullivan introduced an intriguing wrinkle to a special-teams drill, when he had a penalty-killer play without a stick, to prepare him — and others on the shorthanded unit — for how to react when that occurs during a game.
“It happens enough that we felt it’s important that we prepare for it.” Sullivan said. “There needs to be a game plan, in the event it does occur, so that all of us can be predictable to one another. So that, as a group of four on the penalty-kill, we have an understanding of what the game plan is.
“It’s just one subtle detail that’s part of a penalty-kill situation. … It’s a very frequent occurrence, and it happens different ways. Sometimes a player drops his stick, but my experience has been that it’s more about the nature of graphite sticks. They break a lot. If the shaft of a stick gets compromised because it gets hit with a shot then the stick breaks, how do we all react?”
Metropolitan meat grinder
The New York Rangers’ 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay, which has reached the Cup final in each of the past three seasons, Tuesday provided the first bit of confirmation that the Metropolitan Division will be ultra-competitive this season.
“Our division has been really tough for the last little bit,” McGinn said.
Zucker said much the same, but believes it could work to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ long-term advantage to be based in a place where points are hard to earn.
“That’s a good thing for us,” he said. “It prepares us for playoff hockey all season. Obviously, we’re biased, but we feel it’s the toughest division in the league.”