A 3-by-3 retrospective of Penguins' 3-peat quest
With the 2017-18 season fading into the past and the offseason underway, a three-by-three retrospective on the Penguins' campaign:
Three things Penguins fans worried about at various points in the season that turned out to be much ado about nothing:
1. When is Jim Rutherford going to trade for a third-line center already? Fans grew impatient as the Penguins started the year with Carter Rowney and Greg McKegg as bottom-six centers. Understandable, but all they needed was a little patience. Rutherford picked up Riley Sheahan in October and Derick Brassard in February.
2. How will Phil Kessel fare now that Rick Tocchet, the assistant coach with whom he had such a great rapport, is off to Arizona? Kessel had a career year, recording 34 goals and a personal-best 92 points. It's a stretch to think Tocchet somehow would have stopped his playoff slump.
3. Why didn't Rutherford trade for defensive depth at the deadline? The Penguins ended up using the same six defensemen for all 12 playoff games.
Three things Penguins fans worried about at various points in the season that turned out to be significant:
1. Will fatigue hurt the Penguins after two long seasons? The three teams that played in the Stanley Cup Final the past two seasons — the Penguins, Nashville and San Jose — all were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round. It's hard to say fatigue didn't play a role.
2. Are the Penguins going to miss Marc-Andre Fleury? Circumstances made it impossible to keep the popular goalie, but would he have helped this team this year? No doubt. Matt Murray missed a good chunk of the season, and his overall performance wasn't as strong as it was in the two years he shared the net with Fleury.
3. How will Kris Letang recover from offseason neck surgery? Letang had an up-and-down season, and it's hard to conclude spending his entire summer recuperating from surgery didn't have a deleterious effect on his game.
On the way up
Three prospects who could make an impact for the Penguins next season:
1. Daniel Sprong. Is his two-way game ready for prime time? We'll find out in October. He's got nothing left to prove on the farm.
2. Teddy Blueger. Responsible defensive center had 21 AHL goals this season. It's time to reward his steady progress.
3. Anthony Angello. Next season might be an optimistic ETA for the Cornell product, but the Penguins haven't had a 6-foot-5 forward prospect with this kind of skill in a while.
Circle the calendar
Three key dates in the offseason:
1. June 22-23. When the NHL Draft convenes in Dallas, the Penguins won't have a first-round pick for the fourth consecutive year, but they have second- and third-round choices and the draft is where trade talk usually heats up.
2. July 1. Free agency opens with John Tavares and John Carlson as the expected headliners. The Penguins would need to clear some salary-cap space to make a significant splash.
3. July 5. The filing date for salary arbitration for restricted free agents. The Penguins have several RFAs to sign, including Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan, Dominik Simon, Tom Kuhnhackl, Jamie Oleksiak and Daniel Sprong.
Three memorable moments from the 2017-18 Penguins season:
1. Jake makes no mistake: The Penguins finished off the rival Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of a first-round series thanks to a performance for the ages by Jake Guentzel: a four-goal game.
2. Flower show: Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wiped away tears as Penguins fans welcomed him back to PPG Paints Arena with a warm ovation Feb. 6.
3. Midair magic: Sidney Crosby batted in the rebound of his own shot off the post to give the Penguins a 4-3 overtime win in New Jersey on March 29.
Three moments the 2017-18 Penguins would rather forget:
1. Caps counter: At one end of the ice, Braden Holtby stops Brian Dumoulin from the slot. At the other, Jakub Vrana scores on a two-on-one to break a 3-3 tie with less than five minutes left in Game 5 of the Metropolitan Division finals. The momentum never swung back to the Penguins.
2. Chicago dumpster fire: The Blackhawks scored five times in the first period and hung an epic 10-1 beating on the Penguins in the second game of the season. Brandon Saad had a hat trick. This Antti Niemi thing wasn't going to work out.
3. Wounded knee: Flyers center Jori Lehtera fell on Evgeni Malkin's left knee in the first period of Game 5 of a first-round series, leaving the Penguins superstar to play through injury the rest of the playoffs.
Quotes of the year
Memorable quips and comments from the Penguins:
1. “He's a leader on the team, too. Not just on the ice. In the locker room and on the bench. I listen to his voice the whole time. Sometimes, it's too much.” — Evgeni Malkin with a zinger on teammate Patric Hornqvist
2. “Mean Joe Greene. Mean Ryan Reaves. We'll see if that catches on.” — Reaves, on wearing No. 75 in black and gold
3. “What accent?” — Coach Mike Sullivan when asked if he'd have to keep his Boston accent under wraps the week before the Steelers played the Patriots