The Pittsburgh Penguins identity.
It’s been discussed, debated, and dissected. For the last couple of seasons, it was lost as slower and underperforming players filled the roster surrounding the Penguins’ core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. An offseason of upheaval and change has launched the Penguins into a rollercoaster beginning of the 2023-24 NHL regular season.
The formerly staid Penguins find themselves joining their youthful competitors, searching for points and a fundamental element: their identity.
The Buffalo Sabres have already broken up their top line after losing three of their first four games, while the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings won three of their first four. It seems the playoff battle has come to October, even as teams try to figure out who they are.
“I think there’s the other teams that have taken steps,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “There’s teams that are looking to prove themselves. So especially early on, I think it’s going to be close, and you know, teams are all trying to find their identity.”
It might be fair to point out the Penguins’ search for their identity. A blown third period lead was followed by a pair of games in which the team exploded for several goals in one period and a loss in which they dominated the third period but absently allowed several goals in a period. The disheveled beginning led to a 2-2-0 record, even as Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are posting more than a point per game.
Crosby has five points (3-2-5) in four games, and Malkin has notched seven points (3-4-7).
“You feel good about some things. The next day, you don’t feel good about other things,” Crosby said. “But I think that’s part of every start of the season and trying to find your identity, especially with so many new guys. I think you expect that to be the case, and you just want to try to fast-track it as best you can.”
What will be the Penguins’ identity? PHN followed up the original question to Crosby with another. Is that identity already known, and the team is working toward it, or must it be found through the course of the trials and tribulations of games?
“When you’re talking about identity, I think it’s more just doing things consistently. You know, I think we have some speed, so we want to make sure we’re playing fast, but making sure that we limit odd-human rushes, that we’re good defensively and strong there,” Crosby said. “So, yeah, when I say identity, I think it’s more just consistently doing things that are our strengths and that we need to win games.”
The odd-man rushes have been a problem on the power play and at even strength as new teammates learn to read each other and the new system.
The third period against Detroit on Wednesday is a pretty good blueprint. Erik Karlsson covered the lengths of the ice and scored a goal. Malkin quipped that Karlsson could have scored four. The team controlled the puck and chased down others.
Radim Zohorna will join the Penguins lineup Saturday. It seems likely that Ryan Shea will make his NHL debut on the Penguins’ blue line. The attempt to find their identity will continue, even as it seems the top of the lineup is pushing forward and carrying the responsibilities.