Perspective of Penguins Season with Mike DeFabo


“Hockey is Back!” Three words that all hockey fans love to hear.  Although this season might not be the same as any normal season, the joy of watching hockey comes back for 56 regular-season games to lead into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though this season may be different, this offseason followed the same procedure, which included free agency and offseason trades. To get back into the hockey spirit, I asked Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike DeFabo, who attended Greater Latrobe,  about what the Penguins can do this upcoming season.

“The NHL is trying to work through these issues in the safest way they can, and so there is going to be daily testing, there are social distancing guidelines. Another difference is they are holding training camp at PPG Paints Arena instead of holding it at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry because they can have the players spaced out through different locker rooms, try to limit the players in close contact with each other,” said DeFabo.

“Another difference once the season starts, most of these games are going to be played back to back against the same opponent in a series structure like baseball, and that’s to minimize travel and reduce the possible exposure to the virus, so it’s going to be a different season as we’ve seen in other leagues there’s going to be positive tests that they are going to have to work through,” DeFabo said. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins finished third in the Metropolitan division before the season was paused on March 12. They went into the pause losing nine of the last eleven games which then carried over into the qualifying round of the playoffs. The Penguins came out flat and ended up losing in a best of five series to the Montreal Canadiens 3-1. The Penguins were clearly outskated and couldn’t match the quality goaltending that Montreal got from Carey Price. As a result the Penguins decided to move on from goaltender Matt Murray in the fall and let Tristan Jarry be the next number one goalie for the team. 

“It’s definitely going to be more responsibility on Tristan Jarry’s shoulders and more expectations as the true number one, but with that also comes security where he doesn’t have to look over his shoulders and wonder who are they going to start. He’s clearly the guy and they clearly believe in him,” DeFabo said.

“In the first half of last year in November and December, he [Jarry] stole the net from Matt Murray and posted a save percentage near .940, he had a shutout streak of about three games which set a franchise record, and he was an All-Star. So if he can produce like that, the Penguins won’t just have an All-Star caliber goalie, they’ll have a Hall of Fame-caliber goalie,” DeFabo said.

25 year-old, Tristan Jarry, will be an NHL starting goaltender for the first time in his career which could lead to some changes from his play from a year ago. 

“The challenge is going to be sustaining that level of play over an extended period of time which is going to be new for him and taking on a greater workload because before as the backup he was used to playing sparingly now it’s going to be game in and game out, he’s gonna have to play hurt sometimes, he’s gonna have to play tired sometimes and the question is how does he handle that,” DeFabo said. 

Murray hadn’t been playing well for the last two years, so the front office decided to make the move away from Murray. Those weren’t the only moves the Penguins made though. The Penguins traded for the former first-round pick of the team, Kasperi Kapanen. The team also traded Patric Hornqvist for defenseman Mike Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour. They then signed both Mark Jankowski from the Calgary Flames and Cody Ceci from the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

“The Penguins made changes to the team in virtually every aspect of it. They added a winger in Kasperi Kapanen to the Top six, they changed up the third defensive pair with Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson, they overhauled the assistant coaching staff, and they made some changes to the front office. So they’re hoping those changes are good ones,” DeFabo said.

 One big thing that these moves over the last 18 months have been focused on is adding more team speed. Signing Brandon Tanev, the first thing you say about him is speed. Trading for Jason Zucker mid-season first thing you say about him is speed. And this offseason acquiring Kasperi Kapanen, speed’s a big thing with him. The same thing with Mike Matheson, people talk about he’s an elite skater. They’re going to be playing the same speed game that gave them success in 2016 and 17, it just becomes a question of whether or not they can do it,” DeFabo said. 

Some more changes that will occur this year which we saw “in the bubble” last postseason, is the fact that there will be no fans at PPG Paints Arena for at least the first month of the season. The Penguins finished with a record of 23-8-4 at PPG Paints Arena behind the energy of their amazing fans. 

“It’s going to be really different. I’m sitting at practice right now watching them skate around and it’s silent. You can just hear the puck and skates and it’s going to be the same kind of environment during the games, so it’s going to be coming upon the players to create their own energy when don’t have those fans waving those towels and getting them fired up,” DeFabo said.

Nothing that can take away what the fans bring to every Pittsburgh Penguins game. This year will definitely be a challenge for all players and fans. The players will have to find a way to bring the energy when their fans don’t. When Sidney Crosby scores a game-winning goal in overtime, not only does the crowd in the rink go crazy, but everyone around the PPG Paints Arena goes crazy.

The Penguins weren’t quite 100% going into the Toronto bubble. One thing that the Penguins will get back at 100% this year will be All-Star forward, Jake Guentzel, who was voted to the All-Star game last year before injuring his shoulder on December 31, in a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. Guentzel did return for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but he didn’t look like what he was in the first part of that season. 

“I would expect he could be on the same pace throughout his career, he’s been a very consistent player, and especially he has shown that he has great chemistry next to Sidney Crosby. It was a devastating injury and I don’t think he was 100% in the brief postseason the Penguins had this summer, but now having the benefit of all those extra months of rehab and rehabilitation, he looks at 100%, the Penguins are glad that he’s at 100%, and I would expect him to have a big season this year,” DeFabo said. 

The NHL wanted to limit travel between all the cities cross country (like from Boston to San Jose). So the league decided to have restructured divisions into four that would limit any team’s travel to a portion of the country. With these changes, the Penguins will be part of the new East division which looks like the hardest division in the entire league. They will play each team eight times; four on the road and four at home. The division consists of the former President Trophy winning Boston Bruins, longtime rivals Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and two up-and-coming teams in the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. 

The Penguins will start their quest for their sixth Stanley Cup against the Flyers on Wednesday in Philadelphia at 5:30 p.m. on NBCSN.