NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Pittsburgh Penguins:
1. Can Tristan Jarry rebound?
Among the 47 NHL goalies who played at least 20 games last season, Jarry’s .909 save percentage was 25th and his 2.75 goals-against average was 27th. He was 25-9-3, but the Penguins averaged 3.62 goals in his 39 games, second-most among the 47 goalies behind the 3.63 goals the Colorado Avalanche averaged in Philipp Grubauer‘s 40 games. In Pittsburgh’s six-game loss to the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup First Round, Jarry had an .888 save percentage and allowed at least three goals in five games.
Andy Chiodo, who had worked with Jarry as Penguins goalie development coach, was named their goaltending coach Aug. 4. General manager Ron Hextall said he believes reuniting Jarry and Chiodo on a full-time basis will be beneficial.
“Hopefully we can make some little tweaks,” Hextall said. “The mental side of the game for a goaltender is a huge part of it. Andy is well aware of that. Going back to Jarry’s experience from last year, he’s still a young goalie that’s learning. And I believe he’s going to learn a lot from last year. I really like what Andy is going to bring to the table here.”
2. Who starts the season at center?
When the Penguins play their opener at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 12, they could be without their top two centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby is expected to miss the start of the season after having surgery on his left wrist Sept. 8. Malkin had surgery on his right knee in June and is not expected to ready for the start of training camp.
That means Jeff Carter likely would take on a larger role. The 36-year-old scored 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 14 regular-season games after being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and then led the Penguins with four goals in six games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He played center and wing for Pittsburgh.
The only other centers with NHL experience expected to be on the opening night roster are Evan Rodrigues, who scored 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 35 regular-season games but was scratched for four playoff games last season, and Teddy Blueger, who scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 43 regular-season games and did not have a point in six playoff games. Pittsburgh also signed Brian Boyle to a professional tryout contract Sept. 3.
3. Will Jason Zucker bounce back?
Zucker scored 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 38 regular-season games and three points (two goals, one assist) in six playoff games last season.
The Penguins are hoping the forward can produce closer to his 2019-20 level, when he scored 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 15 games after being acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 10, 2020. That hope could become a distinct need if Crosby and Malkin are out for any length of time during the season.
4. Will any prospects make an impact?
Joseph scored five points (one goal, four assists) and averaged 16:47 of ice time in 16 games for Pittsburgh last season, and the 22-year-old could compete for a third-pair role this season or play on the top pair with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
Poulin and Legare, each a 20-year-old right wing, will move into professional hockey this season after helping Val-d’Or reach the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship series. Legare led the QMJHL playoffs with 14 goals in 15 games.
5. What can Brock McGinn contribute?
McGinn signed a four-year contract July 28 and likely will be a middle-six forward and see time as a net-front presence on the power play. He never averaged more than 14:59 of ice time per game in any of his six NHL seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes; the six forwards who played on Pittsburgh’s top two lines for most of last season averaged at least 15:32 per game (Crosby, 20:24; Jake Guentzel, 20:16; Bryan Rust, 19:43; Malkin, 17:44; Zucker, 15:41; and Kasperi Kapanen, 15:32).
McGinn’s best NHL season was 2017-18, when he scored 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 80 games and averaged 14:30 of ice time. Last season, he averaged an NHL career-high 14:59 in 37 games and scored 13 points (eight goals, five assists), his fewest since he scored four points (three goals, one assist) in 21 games as a rookie in 2015-16.