The 2021 NHL season is starting on Jan. 13th, starting 3 months later than usual due to COVID, but anticipation and excitement is high. For the Penguins, this shortened season has them widely considered by hockey writers to be in trouble, and many believe that this may be the franchise’s first campaign without the playoffs since 2005-2006. This is due to a division realignment, as well as a shortened season, not to mention aging stars in Evgeni Malkin and captain Sidney Crosby.
This new season looks a lot different compared to seasons in the past, and that is because of (you guessed it) COVID-19. First off, the season is starting January 13th, far later than it normally would, with the normal date being sometime in the month of October. With less time to play, that in turn results in less games being played, and so there will be 56 games being played this year, compared to 82 normally.
However, to some, that may not even be considered the biggest change. This year, the NHL has implemented new division realignments, to attempt to limit travel, and not have travel in-between Canada and the U.S. Many people believe that this division realignment will be the end of the longstanding playoff streak that the Penguins have kept going since the 2006-2007 season, as almost every single team in the division besides the Devils has potential to be a great team this year. However, I see things differently, as Crosby and Malkin proved last year that they can still produce points at an elite rate, as Crosby had 47 points in 41 games, and Malkin had 74 points in 55 games, which is an incredible points per game average. Additionally, we will be getting back our young star Jake Guentzel, who was out for the second half of the regular season, after making the all-star game, and putting up 20 goals in only 39 games. There will also be some new faces in Pittsburgh, one of those new faces being Kasperi Kapanen, who was actually drafted by the Penguins 22nd overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, who will be a great addition to the “Sid and the Kids” line with Crosby and Guentzel.
Besides the offense, there is optimism in the fact that Tristan Jarry, our goaltender, only continues to get better, after making the All Star game for the first time last season. He played remarkably well, allowing only 2.43 goals per game, and stopping 92.1 percent of all shots he faced, as well as putting up 3 shutouts and 20 wins, in 33 games. On the blueline, the Penguins just resigned up and coming star John Marino, who was a bright spot in our season last year, scoring 26 points, and putting up a 17 plus/minus. He was signed to a six year, 26.4 million dollar contract extension, carrying an annual value of around 4.4 million dollars, on January 3rd. On top of that, the Penguins got rid of defenseman Jack Johnson (who was not a fan favorite to say the least), and acquired new defensemen Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson.
With the other teams in the division, Boston will likely be the toughest opponent, yet they’re in some hot water, after losing their long time captain, Zdeno Chara, to the Capitals, and their two biggest stars, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, will be out at the start of the season due to injuries. Many people claim that Buffalo will finally become a good team, but I just don’t see them having the chemistry to become a great playoff bound team, as new star Taylor Hall has had a rough last couple of years, and Jack Eichel’s career has so far been wasted in Buffalo. The New York Rangers drafted Alexis Lafreniere, said to be the next McDavid or Crosby, yet I see him needing a year or two to become a truly great player, leaving the Rangers to probably not live up to the expectations that they have for this season. The Islanders are a decent team, yet they aren’t a phenomenal team, and they may be able to squeak into a playoff spot, but it seems unlikely this year with the tough division that they’re in. The Flyers, as much as I hate to admit it, seem to be a great team in the making, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have always just seemed to own Claude Giroux and the Flyers, and I still don’t see them as a fantastic team that is capable of beating us consistently. The Capitals are a great team, yet they are aging, and they just lost starting goalie Braden Holtby to the Canucks this offseason. Ovechkin is always a force to be reckoned with, but his team is just getting too old, and don’t seem to be able to keep up with all the new talent on the rise this season.
This season will also be the first year that the NHL will have sponsors on jerseys, and it seems that they are following the NBA, as they have had sponsors on their jerseys for years now. Our sponsor, unsurprisingly, will be PPG, and the logo will be on the side of our helmet. This is just one of many changes that are coming to the NHL this season.
This year, the NHL has also decided to shake it up, and create Retro Reverse jerseys, and for the Penguins, our jersey is back to the 90’s, when Mario and Jagr were still dominating the NHL. Many people were hopeful that the Robopen would be our new jersey, which was also worn in the 90’s, but it seems that team owner Mario Lemieux hates the Robopen that he wore in his playing days, so that wasn’t going to happen. All in all, it’s a pretty clean and nice looking jersey, with the diagonal Pittsburgh as the main logo, similar to the Rangers. It’s a little bit bland, but I’m happy with the Retro Reverse jersey that we got for this new season.