Penguins go winless in opening games; are they still favorites for 3-peat?

With back-to-back Stanley Cup wins and a team that’s fully fit, everyone had high expectations for the Pittsburgh Penguins coming into the season, but then, after just two games, the Penguins sat with a 0-1-1 record and a -10 goal difference. So, after one of their worst starts in recent history, are the Penguins still the Stanley Cup favorites, and why?

What went wrong?

Source: Chicago Tribune, via Twitter

In their first game of the new 2017-18 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins fell to the St. Louis Blues in overtime 5-4, scoring twice in the second half of the third period to tie the score. On that night, the Blues managed to bully the reigning champions, with their defensive setup very hard to break down.
All but two of the St. Louis skaters laid out at least one hit which really wore down the seemingly already fatigued Penguins team. They showed real tenacity to claim a point from the game, but their less than stellar defensive work coupled with the pressing play of the Blues saw them leave without a win.

On the very next night, they had to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City, which did not end well. Patrick Kane was clearly on a mission, which was only aided by poor defending and even worse goaltending. New backup netminder Antti Niemi started but was slow between the posts, showed very poor rebound control and puck tracking, and was eventually pulled for the tired Matt Murray at 9:16 played of the first quarter, after conceding four goals from 13 shots. Murray couldn’t stop the rot, with the game ending 10-1 to the Blackhawks.

Justin Schultz and Kris Letang are elite-level defensemen, there’s no doubt about that, but look down the depth chart and you doubt the ability of the blueliners in Penguins jerseys. Over the last couple of seasons, the Penguins have had Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in net, knowing that no matter who’s in net, they’ll be getting stellar goaltending. They can’t say that anymore.
Murray is still very young for a goalie and was helped out a lot by Fleury’s assuring presence on the bench, but Niemi simply can’t provide that kind of trustworthy backup – which will harm the team a lot this season. The goalies can’t make up for the lackluster defense anymore.

Are the Penguins still favorites?

Source: Penguins VAVEL, via Twitter

There is a long season ahead, so of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins are still the favorites to win the Stanley Cup again. However, holes in their line-up were blown open for the world to see in the first couple of games, which others could capitalize upon. Unless they pick up at the back, other contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, or even the Washington Capitals will make for better use of your free bets, especially as they’ll be at better odds.

When a team can boast a forward cast of the caliber of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, you know that there will always be goals scored. But the team does lack down the depth chart on the defensive side of the puck. Another note, the Penguins saw a lot of turnover in the offseason, with major role players like Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Tom Daley, Chris Kunitz, and Marc-Andre Fleury leaving for new teams, so it might just be a case of waiting for the new members of the team to gel with the remaining championship winning players.

The Champions tag

Source: The Conversation CA, via Twitter

A problem that comes with being the reigning champions is that every team is going to have their crosshairs on the Penguins. Whichever team it is, they will want to put in a big performance and pull off a good result against the best team in the league from the season prior. With seemingly weakened, or at least less cohesive, lines, for now, teams will be able to take advantage of the holes. Until those holes are patched, the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Murray are going to need to put in other-worldly, game-winning performances to carry the team through.

With a very tough October schedule, the Penguins need to hope that something clicks soon; otherwise, they could be in for a very rough opening month of the new season. But, with the mass of elite-level players on the roster, as well as their great up-and-coming players, Pittsburgh will undoubtedly put up a good fight in the Metropolitan Division’s playoff positions.
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