araThat’s a wrap. The Pittsburgh Penguins completed their two-week odyssey of Phase 3 training camp at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and to the best of our knowledge, there were no positive COVID-19 tests. There were not bold mistakes like David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, who openly broke quarantine in Boston, there were not players dragging their feet or cool to the task.
No, the Pittsburgh Penguins embraced the task. The team voluntarily quarantined nine players at the start of camp after they suffered secondary exposure, and Sidney Crosby missed all but one day last week. Still, there is palpable positive energy from the flightless birds.
3 Pressing Questions from Pittsburgh Penguins Camp
1. Can Conor Sheary bolster the top line?
It may be the biggest question of skaters at Penguins camp. The Penguins top line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby has poured in post-season points. The points flowed like water in past playoff excursions.
In 41 career playoff games, Jake Guentzel has 43 points, including an astounding 24 goals.
The weak link on the line is at RW. Can Conor Sheary replicate his camp performance in the real games, against angry opponents leaning on him? Can Sheary play hard down low and distribute the puck, as he did in camp?
If Sheary can hold up his end of the bargain on the top line, the Penguins become a much deeper and much better team. If Sheary cannot fulfill his duties, Patric Hornqvist is the only other option, and the Penguins lineup would be compromised if that became necessary. The Penguins third line with Patrick Marleau, Jared McCann, and Hornqvist is not a question and appears poised for a stellar tournament.
Breaking up the third line to fix the first line would be bad news. Just as Sheary again flourishing would be good news.
2. Is Matt Murray Ready?
I honestly don’t know. He had good moments in the four intra-squad scrimmages, and he too many not-so-good moments. He allowed a goal to Anthony Angello on Saturday that should have been an easy save, but he caved in to the net and left the far side too exposed. Angello didn’t exactly rip the shot, but still scored.
Tristan Jarry outplayed Matt Murray in camp.
Murray is the starter, but the question is, how long is Murray’s leash?
Right now, I’ll place the leash at 1.5 games. If Murray is not right in Game 1 vs. the Montreal Canadiens and does not start Game 2 well, that would be the prudent time to insert Jarry.
3. Ok, Sid, What’s Up?
Sidney Crosby was fine last Saturday. It’s nothing, just maintenance, said every source. That was a week ago, and Sidney Crosby missed the subsequent three scrimmages, including Saturday, which was one full week after “maintenance.”
We watched Evgeni Malkin torch the NHL when Crosby missed 28 games in the regular season. We watched Malkin figuratively lift the team on his shoulders and carry them to the fourth-best record in the NHL at the holiday break.
And, we also know the Stanley Cup doesn’t come back to Pittsburgh without the two-headed monster. The Penguins are deep, but they lack a player who can be a second-line center. Jared McCann is a fine third-line pivot, but his offensive output is significantly less than a scoring line center.
The Penguins can beat Montreal without Crosby. However, it would be a mountain too steep to overcome Tampa Bay, Washington, or Boston without Crosby (Yes, we think the Penguins could handle Philadelphia, also)
“I’ve skated on my own a long time, didn’t really feel like I needed another week of it. But that being said, things are moving in the right direction,” Crosby said on Saturday. “So, hopefully, I’ll get in that exhibition game (against Philadelphia on Tuesday).
Crosby’s injury is obviously more than “maintenance,” and it’s something. Can Crosby get to 100% healthy before Aug. 1, and can he stay healthy?
Perhaps not even Sidney Crosby knows that answer.