Penguins notebook: Carl Hagelin's longtime linemate among notable absences on banner-raising night
For many in the stands Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena, it may have been a shock to the system to look to the ice and not see Marc-Andre Fleury or Chris Kunitz in black and gold.
For winger Carl Hagelin, however, the bigger adjustment was not having Nick Bonino by his side.
Since he joined the team in a January 2016 trade with Anaheim, Hagelin has spent more than half his time on the ice in a Penguins sweater playing alongside Bonino, who signed with Nashville in July.
“We became close,” Hagelin said. “We sat next to each other here in the locker room. We ate dinners on the road. It's definitely something you have to adjust to. But it's one of those things. There's always going to be people leaving teams.”
With Bonino gone, Hagelin finds himself as the senior member of a line with center Greg McKegg and Tom Kuhnhackl to start the season.
“I think it's important that they play their game, but in certain situations, there might be some insight that you learned from some older players throughout the years,” Hagelin said. “It's always important to have good communication with your linemates, even more so on the PK.”
Last season, Hagelin was third on the team in short-handed ice time, averaging a little more than two minutes per game. With the two players ahead of him on that list, Bonino and Matt Cullen, gone via free agency, he figures to play an even more featured role on the penalty kill this year.
“I know I'm going to get my time on the PK,” Hagelin said. “It's a big part of my game. I know I have to be rock solid there.”
Kris Letang, who had neck surgery in April, played his first game that counted since Feb. 21. Coach Mike Sullivan offered a two-pronged assessment of his star defenseman's return.
First, he effusively praised Letang's abilities.
“I don't think there's any question we get out of our zone much more efficiently when Tanger's in our lineup,” Sullivan said. “He can be a one-man breakout by himself. He has that ability. He's one of those elite players who can shake a forecheck by himself when the time presents it.”
Second, Sullivan cautioned not to expect too much too soon.
“He's also a guy that's missed a lot of hockey,” Sullivan said. “It's going to take a little bit of time, I think, for Tanger to get to his true form. One of the messages we've been preaching to him is to keep the game simple, take what the game gives him and not try to do too much.”
It's common for young players on the visiting team at PPG Paints Arena to admit to excitement about facing Sidney Crosby, a player they often idolized growing up. St. Louis rookie Tage Thompson, a 19-year-old first-round draft pick out of UConn, said he was more psyched up to face one of Crosby's teammates: Evgeni Malkin.
“I tried to imitate him a lot,” the 6-foot-5 Thompson said. “That's someone I watched all the time growing up and have been a fan of my whole life.”
The Penguins announced they would donate $25,000 to support the victims and first responders of Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas and $25,000 to the Pirates' efforts to raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.