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Molinari: New Approach to Preseason?; Celebrate Lange Now



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins preseason games are generally about as memorable as, well, Steelers preseason games. Or, for that matter, any other competition that doesn’t count in the standings.

In recent years, the Penguins have tended to dress fairly representative lineups for exhibition games at PPG Paints Arena, but watered-down ones that barely meet the league’s minimum standards for the ones on the road.

That’s been one of the benefits to having a roster whose core has been largely intact for a number of years.

But it’s not out of the question that Mike Sullivan and his staff will have to stray a bit from their usual approach this fall because of all the personnel turnover since the end of last season.

The Penguins will, for example, start the season without their top two left wingers from 2022-23 — Jake Guentzel will be recovering from ankle surgery  and Jason Zucker went to Arizona as a free agent — and their bottom two lines will be almost completely different.

It would be good for the coaches to know before the real games start who would be a capable fill-in for Guentzel with Sidney Crosby and Rickard Rakell, and whether Reilly Smith meshes with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust, as well as how the many newcomers mesh on the third and fourth lines. The latter group includes Lars Eller, Noel Acciari, Rem Pitlick, Matt Nieto, Andreas Johnsson and Vinnie Hinostroza.

What’s more, with the departures of Brian Dumoulin, Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta, all three defense pairings will have at least one new member.

Consequently, just about every unit on the team, including the power play and penalty-kill, will benefit from getting in game action together, to discover which combinations can develop chemistry and which should not remain intact.

With the playoff races in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference shaping up as ultra-competitive, experimenting during the regular season might be a luxury the Penguins don’t have.

That means this preseason figures to be a little more significant than any in the recent past. And perhaps a bit more entertaining.

It’s (past) time to honor really Lange

Hall of Fame play-by-play man Mike Lange’s impact on the Pittsburgh Penguins has been discussed multiple times on this site, most recently on Sunday.

Lange stepped away from the booth in 2021, ending a run that began in 1974. His tenure included the franchise’s most glorious days — five Stanley Cups, for starters — but also some of its darkest moments, and it was during the latter when he did his most important work.

When the franchise was meandering aimlessly in the early 1980s, his game calls did more to keep pro hockey interest in this area alive than anything the Penguins put forth on the ice. Whether there would actually be Pittsburgh Penguins — as opposed to, say, Hamilton Penguins — today without Lange’s work then is a reasonable subject for debate.

The outpouring of tributes that followed the death of Buffalo play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret, an icon in his market, last week was moving. It also was a reminder that, while there obviously is nothing wrong with posthumous praise,  it’s even better to allow people to see tangible evidence of how much they were appreciated while they’re still able to experience it.

The Penguins named the press box in Lange’s honor several years ago — It’s the “Mike Lange Media Deck” now — but most members of the public, the people to whom he meant the most, will never be there.

That’s why it is time — no, way past time — for the Penguins to honor Lange with a banner. Or a statue. Or both.

Now. So that everyone, including Lange, can enjoy it, see a tangible show of appreciation for the incalculable contributions of one of the most important figures in franchise history.