Fans pin hopes on Penguins amid disappointing Pirates season, Steelers’ slow start | TribLIVE.com
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Fans pin hopes on Penguins amid disappointing Pirates season, Steelers’ slow start

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang handles the puck again the Red Wings on Sept. 26, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
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Natasha Lindstrom | Tribune-Review
Penguins fans exiting PPG Paints Arena assured one another that Saturday’s preseason loss against the Buffalo Sabres doesn’t mean the Pens won’t come back to win when it counts at the season opener on Thursday night.
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Penguins fans file out of PPG Paints Arena after a preseason loss to the Sabres on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
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PPG Paints Arena

Hey Penguins, Pittsburgh’s fans are counting on you.

Not to pile on the pressure on opening day, but days after the end to a disappointing Pirates season and the Steelers’ first win in four games, black-and-gold-clad fans are pinning their hopes on the Pens to give them something to cheer about.

“That’s the one thing keeping me going,” said Manny Lopez, 24, of Bethel Park as he sipped on a beer at RedBeard’s sports bar in Downtown Pittsburgh this week while fellow patrons griped about the sudden firing of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “The Pirates didn’t have a good season; it is what it is. The Steelers … we’ll see. The season just started, and I’m not going to like totally throw them under the bus yet.

“But we’ve got Penguins season coming up, and I’m excited about that.”

The Pens face off against the Buffalo Sabres in the season opener Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

Carl Palmer, 46, of Murrysville was sitting with a friend Wednesday afternoon at Rick’s Sports Bar on Route 22.

He’s looking forward to “new players, new lineups, old players meshing with the new guys and seeing how they do this year,” he said. “I’m hoping for the rebound of Matt Murray.”

Palmer has been watching the Penguins since he was a teenager. He said the start of the season is a brand new beginning.

“It’s the culture and excitement of watching a Stanley Cup-winning team,” he said. “It’s the pick-me-up of winter.”

Krystal Vangura’s Murrysville family lives and breathes hockey. Her middle and oldest sons both play, her husband plays and coaches and the family holds Penguins season tickets.

Vangura said she prefers hockey to football or baseball because the game is so different.

“The speed of the game and the integrity of the players; the speed of the play, itself; the ups and downs in a season, and the number of games alone makes it impossible to predict who will come out on top until the very end,” she said. “The twists and turns keep most games exciting.

“I’m looking forward to a game where the professionals still treat it like a game and have fun with it, but take it seriously enough to not make a personal circus.”

John Negich of Export said the Pirates season — “a complete bust,” he said — and the Steelers’ prospects have him more interested in the Penguins than usual.

“I’m more of an avid Steelers fan,” he said. “But the Penguins seem to be a better-run organization than both of the other pro teams in the city.”

Fans are extra hungry to rout Buffalo following a 3-2 overtime loss on Saturday afternoon in the final preseason game.

Fans got nervous when they saw Sidney Crosby leave the rink Saturday with a trainer.

“He’ll bounce back,” said Cody McClintock, 23, of Shaler.

Crosby returned to practice on Tuesday. Newcomer Alex Galchenyuk returned on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a rough season. It just feels rough,” said Evan James, 31, of Ross Township while grabbing a bite at Primanti’s in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on Tuesday night.

He said he has much more confidence in the leadership of the Pens, though, than Pittsburgh’s other pro teams.

“We kind of got smacked by the Pirates overall, and the Steelers aren’t doing too hot this year,” James said. “(Mike) Tomlin needs to be held accountable.”

McClintock can’t remember the last time he’s been to a Pirates game, but he’s psyched for hockey season. He and his friends share Penguins season tickets.

“It’s fun to watch, it’s a good team and they put on a good show,” he said. “The Pens are going to have a good season.”

After Thursday’s night’s matchup against the Sabres, the Pens’ next two home games are against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, followed by the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

RELATED: Penguins’ Sidney Crosby returns to practice

Here’s the Penguins opening roster, which includes 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders:

Forwards: Zach Aston-Reese, Nick Bjugstad, Teddy Blueger, Sidney Crosby, Alex Galchenyuk, Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist, Dominik Kahun, Evgeni Malkin, Jared McCann, Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon and Brandon Tanev.

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Erik Gudbranson, Jack Johnson, Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson, Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel and Justin Schultz.

Goaltenders: Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

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