SAN JOSE — Tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins will look much more like the team that beat the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on June 12th than the one that beat them in Pittsburgh on October 20th.
Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Conor Sheary, or Pittsburgh’s second, first, and fifth leading scorers in the Stanley Cup Final, respectively, are all back in the lineup after missing the season’s first Stanley Cup rematch 16 days ago.
“We’ve turned the page. I’m sure they have too,” Crosby, who missed the Penguins’ first five games with a concussion, said. “It’s probably natural for the emotion and the intensity to carry over. But I think for us, it’s a boost when you get injured guys back in the lineup. To finally have our full team, we want to make sure we’re at our best.”
The Penguins are 4-0-1 since Crosby’s return, and the Penguins captain has scored six goals over that span. With eight points on the season, he’s off to the third fastest five-game start of his career after not scoring in his first five games a season ago.
“Sometimes [scoring chances go in], sometimes they don’t,” Crosby said. “Fortunately, they’ve gone in. I don’t feel like I’ve had more shots, or that many different types of chances, I just feel like they’ve gone in. I just want to continue to take advantage of those. There’s not many in games, so you’ve got to make sure you put them in.”
Like Crosby, Goaltender Matt Murray also missed the Penguins’ first game against the Sharks as he recovered from a broken hand sustained at the World Cup of Hockey. Murray took over as the Penguins’ starter down the stretch last season after Marc-Andre Fleury missed time due to a concussion.
He didn’t look back in the postseason, and posted a .920 SV% en route to the Penguins’ fourth Stanley Cup. Tonight, he’ll make his second start of the season for Pittsburgh. In Murray’s absence, Fleury went 6-2-2 with a .908 SV%, and stopped 32 of 34 shots he faced in the Penguins’ 3-2 win over the Sharks in October.
With the expansion draft looming and Matt Murray’s recent contract extension, Fleury’s been the subject of trade speculation. For now, though, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan is happy to have both goaltenders.
“We’re fortunate. We have two really good goaltenders that we know are going to give us a chance to win,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to try to do our best to keep them both in the mix, and we’ll go from there. For me, I think that these situations always have a way to work themselves out, and inevitably, performance is always the dictator.”
Forward Scott Wilson and defenseman Trevor Daley are the only players in Pittsburgh’s lineup that didn’t play in the Penguins’ last trip to the SAP Center in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The complement of players is mostly unchanged, but their usage has changed.
The “HBK” line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel, arguably Pittsburgh’s best all postseason, is no more. Hagelin will play alongside Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, Kessel is with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, and Bonino centers Wilson and Bryan Rust.
While the lines are different, playing on the same rink where the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last June is a natural reminder of their past success, according to Crosby. The Penguins, though, cannot afford to reflect too much on that success, Sullivan said.
“We have to make sure that our focus is short term, and we’re not looking in the rear view mirror, and we’re not looking ahead of it,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking at one game. We’re going to try and do everything we can to win this game.
“I think that has to be our approach this early in the season, and we have to make sure our focus is where it needs to be.”