“We want to send a message that we’re still there and we still want to win more Stanley Cups.”
You might have tried to block the memory of May 7, 2018, but it will all come back Thursday night when the Penguins face the Washington Capitals in their home opener at PPG Paints arena.
The play started with Sidney Crosby carrying the puck into the Capitals’ zone. Capitals’ defender Dmitry Orlov used a quick flick of his wrist to poke the puck into space where Alex Ovechkin quickly slid it ahead to Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Eight seconds later the quest for a third consecutive Stanley Cup was over.
Kuznetsov’s goal highlighted much of what was wrong with the Penguins last season. A failed zone entry turned into a quick transition from offense to defense. Ovechkin poked the puck between Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, where Kuznetsov’s speed got him in alone on Matt Murray. A couple quick dekes later and the puck found pay dirt through Murray’s five hole.
All of it left a foul taste in the collective mouths of all involved.
Redemption for playoff losses isn’t found in the regular season, but sometimes a win against the team that beat you – especially in a season opener – helps the healing. It might even provide the motivation that’s needed to get back on top of the mountain.
“I think you’ve probably got more of a chip on your shoulder coming in having lost and having that fresh in your mind,” Crosby said. “The fact that they went all the way to win, too, and knowing how close you were, those are all great motivating factors.”
The Capitals are certainly one of the Penguins’ biggest rivals, but their exploits following the victory at PPG Paints Arena in May didn’t matter as much as the losing itself. Crosby didn’t like being eliminated and that is where he and his teammates are drawing their motivation moving into the 2018-19 campaign.
“I think that any team that you lose to in the playoffs, the next year, you’re obviously well aware of them and it’s fresh in your mind,” he said. “That’s pretty typical regardless if it’s Washington or any other team you’ve lost to in the past. That’s pretty standard I think.
“Nobody likes losing. Regardless if the team goes on to win or they don’t go on to win. You look back and you try to improve in certain areas and make sure you’re ready the following year.”
Letang certainly remembers how it felt to watch Kuznetsov score that goal in May and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like that play, how his team fared overall or how he looked while trying to adapt to a slightly different style of play. He had been coached to adjust, to simplify, and to remove some of the risk in his game.
None of it worked for him and he decided to put the focus back on being the guy who will pass Paul Coffey as the team’s all-time leading defensive scorer with his fourth point this season.
Just about everyone who has seen Letang play during the preseason has said that he looks primed for a significant bounce back. He’s skating with authority, moving the puck well and rolling up points. He’s also shooting the puck a ton, putting up 13 shots in three preseason games.
The 31-year-old isn’t particularly concerned with the Capitals, but they do stand as a stark reminder of what he and his teammates had and want again. He also agrees with his captain about the Penguins having a chip on their shoulder.
“We didn’t end the season the way we wanted,” Letang said. “I think we want to send a message that we’re still there and we still want to win more Stanley Cups. Like Sid said, we want to try to come in here with a chip on our shoulder and try to regain what we lost.”
Dumoulin a Game Time Decision
Head Coach Mike Sullivan announced that Dumoulin, who’s been dealing with an upper-body injury since exiting the final preseason game after two periods, will be a game-time decision.
The team did not skate line rushes on Thursday morning as they went through an optional game-day skate, but Dumoulin did skate with Letang on the top pair during practice on Wednesday.
Based on that skate, the lineup versus the Capitals will likely look something like this:
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon – Derick Brassard – Bryan Rust
Matt Cullen – Riley Sheahan – Daniel Sprong
Dumoulin – Letang
Olli Maatta – Jack Johnson
Jamie Oleksiak – Justin Schultz
Brian Metzer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Pittsburgh Current. Email him at Brian@pittsburghcurrent.com