Through the years: The players, coaches and games that define 50 years of Penguins hockey
• Pre-Mario (1967-1984)
Approved as one of six expansion franchises on Feb. 9, 1966, the Penguins fielded their first team during the 1967-68 season and spent the next decade and a half trying to establish stability.
“The Century Line” — Syl Apps, Lowell MacDonald and Jean Pronovost — and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Randy Carlyle provided varying degrees of dynamism and star power in the 1970s and early 1980s. But an ever-changing cast of players and coaches made sustained success elusive for the Penguins, who finished with a standings point percentage above .500 just four times in the 17 seasons before Mario Lemieux arrived.
Their best playoff push came in 1970, when they went six games into a NHL semifinals series before falling to fellow 1967 expansion franchise St. Louis.
Lou Angotti · 1983-1984
One awful season behind the Penguins' bench spelled doom for Angotti, but it also put the franchise in position to draft Mario Lemieux that summer. Angotti's fateful connections with Penguins' standouts ran even deeper, though: The Penguins traded their first captain, Ab McDonald, in June 1968 to acquire Angotti, then a feisty winger, and they sent their future coach away in a trade in June 1969 that netted them Ron Schock, who became a four-time captain.
Eddie Johnston · 1980-83
Regular-season record: 79-126-35
Playoff record: 4-6 playoffs
Before he became one of the franchise's most beloved and iconic figures, “E.J.” earned his keep as a clever coach who knew how to use his own past experiences as a nightlife-loving player to identify which of his skaters broke curfew. He transitioned from coach to general manager of the Penguins after the 1983 season.
Johnny Wilson · 1977-80
Regular-season record: 91-105-44
Playoff record: 4-8
As a left winger, he appeared in 580 consecutive games in the 1950s to garner a deserved reputation as hockey's ironman. But his tenure, which included two trips to the playoffs, ended sourly with the Steel City. After news of Wilson's firing broke, the coach's son, Kelly, reportedly told the Pittsburgh Press, “He'd be glad to get out of the city. The fans are terrible around here. This is a football city.”
Marc Boileau · 1974-76
Regular-season record: 66-61-24
Playoff record: 5-4
Though the Penguins won more than they lost with Boileau in charge, they experienced one of the franchise's most crushing performances under the coach's watch. The Penguins squandered a 3-0 lead over the New York Islanders and lost in Game 7 of the 1975 quarterfinals, which capped Boileau's only full season as the team's coach.
Ken Schinkel · 1973-74, 1976-77
Regular-season record: 83-92-28
Playoff record: 2-4
A right winger, he retired as the Penguins' record holder in game appearances (636) and points (325) and immediately replaced Red Kelly as coach in January 1973. He lost the position to Marc Boileau in February 1974, but reclaimed it in January 1976. He then shifted to a front office role with the team in 1977.
Leonard “Red” Kelly · 1969-73
Regular-season record: 90-132-52
The Penguins had big plans for Kelly before they ultimately parted ways with the coach in the second year of his five-year contract. Explaining Kelly's firing in January 1973, Penguins part-owner Thayer Potter told the Associated Press, “This year's Penguins team is, in our opinion, the best ever, and its potential must be realized. We cannot chance a similar slump as we had last year and count upon another miracle finish to help us qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
George “Red” Sullivan · 1967-69
Regular-season record: 47-79-24
The first coach of the fledgling Penguins franchise knew a thing or two about survival in the face of unfavorable odds. Sullivan suffered a ruptured spleen as a player with the New York Rangers during the 1956-57 season after enduring a violent spearing from Montreal's Doug Harvey, and he reportedly recalled a priest coming to the hospital to potentially read last rites. Sullivan recovered and didn't miss a game for New York during the next four seasons.
*Johnston coached again during the Lemieux Era; those figures are excluded.
LW Val Fonteyne · 1967-72
PIM: 4 PIM
Few forwards in the NHL kept their two-way game cleaner than Fonteyne, a go-to penalty killer who committed just two minors in 349 regular-season games with the Penguins and finished his career with 26 penalty minutes in 820 NHL games.
G Al Smith · 1969-71
In an era when NHL teams still settled disputes and entertained fans with spurts of violence, Smith provided the Penguins a rarity: He welcomed fights as a netminder. Nicknamed “The Bear” according to his biography on the Hockey Hall of Fame's player database, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound goalie earned five fighting majors in his two seasons with the Penguins.
C Ron Schock · 1969-77
Before Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby came along and held captaincies for the lengths of their careers, Schock emerged as the Penguins' first long-term leader. He served as captain from 1973-74 through 1976-77 — that four-season span ranked as the longest in franchise history until Lemieux earned the honor from 1988-89 through 1993-94. Schock missed just three games during his time as captain.
Barclay, Bill and Bob (1967-78) Plager · st. louis
The three Plager brothers stirred up trouble on St. Louis' behalf throughout the late 1960s and well into the 1970s, and the Penguins tolerated their share of the trio's antics. When the Penguins and Blues met in the preliminary round of the playoffs in 1975, Barclay Plager received 14 penalty minutes in the two-game series, and Bob tallied 20.
Bobby Clarke · Philadelphia
Claude Giroux and Eric Lindros invited loathing from Penguins fans with their mixture of talent and toughness, but likely neither reached the level achieved by Clarke, who regularly tallied both point totals and penalty minute amounts in the '80s in seasons during the mid-1970s. And Clarke continued to prod the Penguins into the 2000s, when, as a Flyers executive, he criticized the 2009 Stanley Cup champions because he believed they tanked in the early 2000s to get Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the draft.
Billy Smith · New York Islanders
“I guess you could say I've used my stick viciously,” Smith, a goaltender, told People Magazine in 1982. “Let's face it, I like my image. I enjoy being hit. When somebody cracks me, I go right back and crack them.” Smith's menacing tactics made him a pain for opponents, but he still sat on the bench when the Islanders rallied with four straight wins to eliminate the Penguins in the 1975 quarterfinals. Rookie Glenn “Chico” Resch got the job done in net during that series.
Oct. 11, 1967 vs. Montreal
The first game in franchise history ended 2-1 in favor of the Canadiens. Andy Bathgate scored the Penguins' first goal, and Noel Price and Ab McDonald earned assists. Hank Bassen made 33 saves in goal for the Penguins. The announced attendance at the Civic Arena was 9,307.
April 12, 1970 at Oakland
Rookie center Michel Briere scored in overtime to clinch a 3-2 win that also secured the Penguins' first playoff series victory. Briere's overtime goal, the first in franchise history, sadly became one of the brightest moments of the center's short career, as he ended up in a car crash just one month later and spent the following 11 months in a coma before passing away in April 1971.
March 15, 1975 vs. Washington
The Penguins pummeled the Capitals to the tune of 12-1. That 11-goal margin of victory remains a franchise record; the Penguins tied it with a 12-1 win over Toronto on Dec. 26, 1991. In the Penguins-Capitals all-time series, the 12-1 result also still is the most lopsided outcome.
Ticket prices for inaugural season: $2.50, $3.50, $4, $5
• MARIO ERA (1984-2006)
Magnificence and money trouble became commonplace for the Penguins during Mario Lemieux's two decades as the franchise's star center.
A winning season in 1987-88, the franchise's first since 1978-79, begat a berth in the Patrick Division finals in 1989. Then came back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. The Penguins ultimately qualified for the playoffs each season from 1991 through 2001.
Free to spend as much as they wanted on talent, the Penguins stockpiled rising and fading stars, including Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier.
But after the big names departed in the late 1990s, and as Lemieux worked through ailments and a three-season retirement, the franchise's financial difficulties became apparent. Owners declared bankruptcy in 1998. Frustrations over the outdated state of Mellon Arena followed during the next few years, and fears of the Penguins relocating grew.
Four straight seasons with fewer than 30 wins capped Lemieux's time as a player with the team but also created the opportunity for the Penguins to draft Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Bob Berry ?? 1984-87
Regular-season record: 88-127-25
Known as a coach who trusted veterans over young players and who cared little for marketing ploys, Berry represented a poor fit for the Penguins as they opened the Mario Lemieux era. Zero playoff berths in three seasons hurt, too.
Pierre Creamer · 1987-88
Regular-season record: 36-35-9
He guided the Penguins to their first winning record since 1978-79, but his tenuous relationships with players became fodder for the press. “They wanted to find a big dummy for not making the playoffs, and they chose me,” Creamer told a newspaper after he was fired.
Gene Ubriaco · 1988-89
Regular-season record: 50-47-9
Playoff record: 7-4
Like his predecessor, Ubriaco found it difficult to hide the frustrations that stemmed from his rocky relationships with his star players. He and his close friend, general manager Tony Esposito, lost their jobs on Dec. 5, 1989.
Craig Patrick · 1989-90, 1996-97
Regular-season record: 29-36-9
Playoff record: 1-4
Patrick proved capable of handling general manager and interim coach roles for short periods of time with the Penguins and the New York Rangers, but he never held a long-term bench role with either organization.
Bob Johnson · 1990-91
Regular-season record: 41-33-6
Playoff record: 16-8 in playoffs
He steered Wisconsin to three NCAA titles and got Calgary to the Stanley Cup Final in 1986, but “Badger,” who left his job as executive director of USA Hockey to coach the Penguins, found his crowning moment when Lemieux and company won the Cup in 1991. Johnson died of brain cancer in November 1991.
Scotty Bowman · 1991-93
Regular-season record: 95-53-16
Playoff record: 23-10
“Something inside tells you this is the place to be at this time,” Bowman said after he joined the organization as director of player development in June 1990. His words proved prescient, as he stepped in to succeed Johnson during the 1991-92 season and became the coach of the Stanley Cup champions for the sixth time in his career.
Eddie Johnston · 1993-97
Regular-season record: 153-98-255
Playoff record: 18-18
In his second stint as the Penguins coach, Johnston relished the abundance of talent on the roster. “I feel like a kid in a candy store,” said after his hiring in June 1993, according to the New York Times. He led the Penguins to the conference final in 1996, but never came closer to a Stanley Cup.
Kevin Constantine · 1997-1999
Regular-season record: 86-64-35-4
Playoff record: 8-11
Known as a disciplinarian, Constantine aimed to change a team culture that, by some accounts, had grown too casual under Johnston. But his approach yielded no better results than his predecessor's.
Herb Brooks · 1999-2000
Regular-season record: 29-21-5-2
Playoff record: 6-5
The famous coach of the 1980 USA Olympic team, Brooks replaced Constantine in December 1999 but declined to embrace anything more than an interim label.
Ivan Hlinka · 2000-01
Regular-season record: 42-32-9-3
Playoff record: 9-9
Respected because of what he did as coach of the Czech Republic's Olympic team, Hlinka embodied a bold but potentially beneficial hire for the European-laden Penguins. But Hlinka's struggle with the English language and an 0-4 start to the 2001-02 season led to his firing.
Rick Kehoe · 2001-03
Regular-reason record: 55-81-14-10
He served as an assistant under many of the Penguins' most successful coaches, but Kehoe struggled when he took the top spot behind the bench.
Ed Olczyk · 2003-04, 2005
Regular-season record: 31-64-8-10
The experiment with Olczyk, a high-energy leader in his late 30s with a lengthy NHL playing career and broadcasting background but no coaching experience, ended in December 2005 after the Penguins started the season 8-17-6.
LW Randy Cunneyworth · 1985-1989
Goals: 101 goals
Assists: 115 assists
One of the first wingers to click with Lemieux, Cunneyworth produced big point totals and also brandished his fists with some frequency.
G Frank Pietrangelo · 1987-92
Regular-season record: 34-32-3
Save percentage: .873
He cemented his place in Penguins lore with “The Save” in Game 6 of the 1991 Patrick Division semifinals against New Jersey's Peter Stastny, but he delivered a possibly even more important performance in Game 7 with a 27-shot shutout.
C Jiri Hrdina · 1990-92
Goals: 9 goals
Perhaps more important than his production as a depth forward, which included a two-goal performance in Game 7 of the 1991 Patrick Division semifinals, Hrdina, a Czechoslovakia native, provided the Penguins a way to welcome an 18-year-old Jaromir Jagr in the fold.
“The Muskegon Line”
Jock Callander, Mike Needham and Dave Michayluk made their cohorts who remained with the International Hockey League's Muskegon Lumberjacks proud during the 1992 NHL playoffs, as the trio of minor league call-ups combined for three goals and four assists for the Penguins. Callander and Michayluk never appeared in an NHL playoff game again after that season.
Dino Ciccarelli · minnesota, washington
The scrappy, confrontational right winger often found his scoring touch against the Penguins. He scored six goals and five assists in seven regular-season games for Washington in 1991-92, and then he added five goals, four assists and 14 penalty minutes in the Capitals' seven-game playoff series with the Penguins that spring.
Ron Hextall · Philadelphia
Never shy about showing emotion as a goaltender, Hextall chased and threatened Rob Brown in Game 5 of the 1989 Patrick Division finals after the Penguins winger celebrated a goal. Hextall allowed nine goals on 26 shots faced in that game, a 10-7 win for the Penguins.
Darius Kasparaitis · New York Islanders
The defenseman from Lithuania famously confronted Lemieux as a cocksure rookie in the 1993 playoffs after the Penguins superstar crosschecked Kasparaitis during Game 6 of the Patrick Division finals. Kasparaitis later spent parts of six seasons agitating for the Penguins.
Adam Graves · New York Rangers
Graves accumulated more regular-season penalty minutes (89) against the Penguins than any other opponent, and he also tallied 18 goals and 19 assists in those 60 games. His most unsavory moment as a Penguins villain came in Game 2 of the 1992 Patrick Division final, when he broke Lemieux's left hand with a slash. Graves served a four-game suspension. Lemieux missed the Penguins' next five games.
Notable games (excluding Cup clinchers)
Oct. 11, 1984 at Boston
In his first game with the Penguins, Mario Lemieux forced Bruins defenseman Ray Borque to turn the puck over and then raced down the ice to score a breakaway goal in his first shift.
Dec. 31, 1988 vs. New Jersey
Lemieux became the first player in NHL history to score five goals five different ways — even strength, power play, short-handed, penalty shot and empty net. The Penguins won 8-6.
March 2, 1993 at Philadelphia
Absent from the Penguins' lineup for almost two months as he underwent cancer treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, Lemieux made his triumphant return to action against the Flyers and tallied a goal and an assist in a 5-4 loss.
April 24, 1996 at Washington
Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Game 4
Just before the end of the fourth overtime period, Petr Nedved buried a chance to deliver the Penguins a 3-2 win in a game that, at that time, was the longest in the league since 1936. Ken Wregget stopped the Capitals' Joe Juneau on a penalty shot in the second overtime period to log one of his 53 saves. Olaf Kolzig made 62 stops for Washington.
Dec. 27, 2000 vs. Toronto
After three-and-a-half seasons away from hockey, Lemieux came out of retirement and produced a goal and two assists in a 5-0 home win over Toronto. In just 43 games, Lemieux, scored 76 points that season.
May 4, 2000 vs. Philadelphia,
Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 4
The Keystone State rivalry produced an epic showcase of endurance, as the teams played for 92 minutes and one second beyond regulation. Keith Primeau scored in the fifth overtime for a 2-1 win for the Flyers.
Ticket price range during Lemieux's rookie season (1984-85): $8-$15.50
Ticket price range during the Penguins' 1989-90 season: $16.50-$26
• POST-MARIO ERA (2006-16)
Even before Mario Lemieux's career reached its end, the pieces necessary to maintain the Penguins' championship standards fell in place. Draft picks Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang matured rapidly to establish themselves as a sturdy core for the franchise, so when Lemieux finally left to assume a full-time off-ice role with the team, little doubt existed that he might lift the Stanley Cup again soon as an owner.
Lemieux did just that in 2009. He then watched as the franchise's next wave of superstars tried to reclaim the Cup. Injuries, bad luck and emotional meltdowns in the playoffs ruined otherwise successful seasons.
But Crosby and company managed to match the hardware count of the Lemieux-led teams in 1991 and 1992 when the Penguins won the Cup in San Jose in June.
Michel Therrien · 2005-09
Regular-season record: 135-105-32
Playoff record: 15-10
The Penguins' return to relevance began with their former AHL affiiliate's coach at the helm. Therrien, known as a coach who criticized his players when he wanted, led the Penguins to a 105-point performance in the standings in his first full season (2006-07) as coach and, emphasizing a defensive style of play, guided the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008.
Dan Bylsma · 2009-14
Regular-season record: 252-117-32
Playoff record: 43-35
Like Therrien before him, Bylsma jumped from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to the Penguins in the middle of the season. But Bylsma bettered his predecessor by pushing the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup in 2009 with a system that better utilized speed and skill. Bylsma ultimately became the franchise's wins leader but never made it back to the Cup Final and lost his job after the Penguins collapsed in the second round of the playoffs in 2014.
Mike Johnston · 2014-15
Regular-season record: 58-37-15
Playoff record: 1-4
Named coach in June 2014, just weeks after Jim Rutherford replaced Ray Shero as the Penguins general manager, Johnston tried to install the high-scoring systems that worked well for him as coach of the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League. But his lack of NHL head coaching experience became problematic, as he struggled to improve his simplistic, cautious schemes and to hold his stars accountable.
Mike Sullivan · 2015-present
Regular-season record: 33-16-5
Playoff record: 16-8 in playoffs
Sullivan restored speed and smarts as the keystones of the Penguins' playing style soon after he replaced Johnston in December 2015. Six months later, the Penguins claimed the Stanley Cup, and Sidney Crosby, who struggled considerably at the end of Johnston's tenure, again resembled the world's best hockey player.
Max Talbot · 2005-11
Goals: 52 goals
Assists: 56 assists
He famously shushed the crowd in Philadelphia after fighting Daniel Carcillo in second period of Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Penguins then rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 5-3. Later scored both goals in Penguins' 2-1 win over Detroit in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Scored 13 points in 24 playoff games in 2009 after accumulating 22 points in 75 regular-season games in 2008-09.
Jeff Zatkoff · 2013-16
Games: 35 games
Regular-season record: 16-14
Save percentage: .915
An effective backup during his time with the Penguins, Zatkoff elevated his legacy with the franchise to an entirely different level when he filled the void left by injured goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray and made 35 saves in a 5-2 win in Game 1 of the 2016 first-round series with the New York Rangers. By the end of the Penguins' Stanley Cup run, teammates referred to Zatkoff as “Mr. Game 1.”
Bill Guerin · 2008-10
Games: 95 games
Goals: 26 goals
Assists: 31 assists
The veteran right winger went to the Penguins in a trade in early March 2009 and promptly provided a spark. He tallied five goals and seven assists in 17 regular-season games following the trade and then added to that production with seven goals and eight assists in 24 games during the Penguins' Stanley Cup run. Guerin's value in the organization continued to increase as he joined the hockey operations staff after finishing his playing career in 2010 and moved up the personnel ladder.
Pascal Dupuis · 2007-16
Dupuis joked he ended up with the Penguins as Marian Hossa's personal bag carrier after the duo departed Atlanta in a trade in February of 2008. He evolved into one of the Penguins' most beloved players by settling on Sidney Crosby's wing and handling big short-handed minutes. Stubborn health troubles, which led to Dupuis' retirement in December 2015, nestled the winger even deeper in the hearts of many Penguins fans.
Brandon Dubinsky · New York RANGERS, Columbus
Eager to irritate Sidney Crosby for years, Dubinsky crossed a line in November 2015 when he broke a stick on the Penguins' center with a combination of violent checks to the neck and back. Dubinsky received a one-game suspension for the incident. His 68 career penalty minutes against the Penguins ranks as his second-highest total against any opponent.
Claude Giroux · Philadelphia
Giroux saves some of his best scoring efforts for matchups against the Penguins — he has scored 36 points in 36 regular-season games. And that accounting doesn't include the 2012 first-round series between the teams, when Giroux tallied six goals and eight assists in six games. He also flattened Sidney Crosby just a few seconds into the decisive Game 6, which the Flyers won, 5-1. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette calling Giroux “the best player in the world” after that series further stoked the flames.
Henrik Lundqvist · New York Rangers
“The King” got creative in his efforts to irk Sidney Crosby during Game 6 of the Rangers and Penguins' second-round series in 2014, as he used his water bottle to soak Crosby's head while the center cleared himself from a scrum. Lundqvist also stood on his head in that series. He turned away 94.0 percent of the 217 shots he faced during the seven-game series, which New York rallied to win after falling into a 3-1 hole. A season later, Lundqvist did his part to ensure the Penguins' season ended in the playoffs' first round.
John Tortorella · Tampa Bay, New York Rangers, Columbus
Tortorella's public barbs at the Penguins span several coaching stops. “That's one of the most arrogant organizations in sports,” he said during the 2012 playoffs as the Rangers' coach. After Brandon Dubinsky received a one-game suspension for cross-checking Sidney Crosby in the neck and back in November 2015, Tortorella declared, “Pittsburgh whines enough for the whole league, so there's no room for any other team to whine.”
Mike Milbury · NBC analyst, former Boston and New York Islanders coach
The list of unsavory remarks about Penguins — Sidney Crosby in particular — made by Milbury grows longer each season. He called Crosby a “punk” and a “little goody two shoes” in 2012, and he also made light of Crosby's concussion history during that rant. Then he described Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as “crack addicts” while detailing what he viewed as their reckless, offense-obsessed play in 2013.
Notable games (excluding Cup clinchers)
Oct. 18, 2006 vs. New Jersey
Centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, taken No. 2 and No. 1 in their respective drafts and regarded as generational talents, suited up for their first regular-season game together. Malkin, in his NHL debut, scored late in the second period of the Penguins' 2-1 loss.
June 9, 2009 vs. Detroit
Stanley Cup Final, Game 6
With a 2-1 win against the juggernaut Red Wings, the Penguins staved off elimination, something they failed to do in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final one season earlier. And they won it without points from star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who combined for just three shots on goal. Tyler Kennedy emerged as the offensive hero with one goal and one assist. Three days later, the Penguins claimed the Cup in Detroit with another 2-1 win.
Jan. 1, 2011 vs. Washington at Heinz Field
The grandiose stage for the Penguins-Capitals rivalry also served as ground zero for Sidney Crosby's concussion woes. David Steckel's blindside hit in the second period set in motion a saga that led Crosby to commit the next 10 months to recovery. The development dampened the excitement of Jordan Staal returning to the lineup after he missed the previous eight months with a broken right hand and an infection in his right foot.
March 31, 2016 vs. Nashville
An innocuous 5-2 home win over the Predators became important in retrospect, as it included the moment when Marc-Andre Fleury, the franchise's anchor in goal for a decade, suffered the concussion that brought into question his role with the Penguins in the playoffs and possibly beyond. Matt Murray stepped into Fleury's starting spot in the weeks that followed and earned 15 of the Penguins' 16 playoff wins.
May 10, 2016 vs. Washington
Eastern Conference second round, Game 6
The word “resilient,” used often by Penguins coach Mike Sullivan to describe his team during the 2015-16 season, ended up swirling in the head of most media members after Nick Bonino buried an overtime goal in the series-ending, 4-3 win. By vanquishing the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals, who rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie the game late in the third period, the Penguins proved they no longer shrunk in the face of even the most unpleasant postseason adversity.