This is all still very surreal, but the Pittsburgh Penguins opened their July training camp on Monday as they begin their preparations to chase the Stanley Cup, starting with their play-in round matchup against the Montreal Canadiens.
The one big question that was somewhat answered during Monday’s first practice was the early line combinations that head coach Mike Sullivan went with.
Along with that there is the question of where in-season addition Jason Zucker could end up playing.
The mystery here is mostly because of the fact the Penguins never really had a fully healthy roster this season and were always trying to patch things together anyway they could.
We know Crosby and Guentzel have a chemistry that works. But we also know that Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin were dominating the last time we saw them together. Before the world went crazy it was pretty much a daily question around these parts as to where Guentzel would play.
On Monday, we received our first clue — back with Crosby.
The full lines and defense pairings from Monday:
Chad Ruhwedel – Kevin Czuzman
- There were nine players held out because of potential secondary exposure to COVID-19, but the only NHL regular out of that group was Patric Hornqvist. Assuming he is able to return in a timely manner you have to figure he slots into that third line spot that was filled by Evan Rodrigues and Sam Lafferty on Monday.
- When it comes to the lines and defense pairings themselves, I honestly think that is as close to ideal as you can get. It is pretty much exactly what you hoped a healthy roster to look like. You know Guentzel and Crosby will work well together, as does the Malkin–Rust combination. Add Zucker into that mix and that is a dynamite second line. The fourth line has been a tour de force of defensive hockey this season, and the third line has enough offense to strike fear into opponents. That group of forwards is as deep as any group the Penguins have had since their most recent Stanley Cup team. That is 100 percent a championship caliber unit.
- On defense, I feel as good about the top-four as I have in years. Letang and Dumoulin is as good as it gets in the NHL when both are healthy, and I love the potential of a Marino-Pettersson pairing. Marino has been Jim Rutherford’s best addition of the season and probably one of the best ones he has made in three years. The only concern on defense, of course, is the third pairing with Johnson and Schultz. Every team has a flaw. This is the Penguins’ flaw. This is not to keep diving on the pile when it comes to these two, but it is what it is. At this point I am not even sure there is another option. Splitting them up does nothing but hold back a better pairing somewhere else and you really do not want to do that because the other two pairings can be so good. At least this way you can shelter them in limited minutes and put them into positions where they can be hidden.
- We have been waiting all year to see what this team can do when it is healthy. If this particular lineup can stay on the ice there is definitely big potential here. What changes would you make or want to see before games begin again?