There were a few things immediately different with the 2023-24 Pittsburgh Penguins. With 10 new players on the 22-player roster, including two of the top-four defensemen and a majority of the bottom-six forwards, the nameplates are different, but so were the plays being made.
Yet, as new and fresh as the Penguins are, they began the season in a fashion nearly identical to the way they ended the last one. They established a multi-goal lead, played too wide open, and blew the lead to a vastly inferior team in a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
There were the good things.
Emerging power forward Drew O’Connor used a speed rush around the left wing for an uncontested shot on Chicago goalie Petr Mrazek. Large 6-foot-5 defenseman Ryan Graves nullified a couple of tense moments near the crease by being able to tie up or smother bodies.
And Erik Karlsson.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner is silk on skates. There was a first-period rush in which Karlsson should have taken the easy play and shoveled the puck into the offensive zone as he crossed the red line. He was facing four defenders but instead took the space ahead across the blue line and floated an improbable pass to Jake Guentzel, who joined the lone-wolf rush on the opposite wing.
He skated the puck away from trouble without a hint of panic.
But Mike Sullivan may also need a recurring subscription delivery of extra-strength antacids. The negative similarities to last season were striking. Even the veteran players seemed caught between looking forward and acknowledging the obvious connections.
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