The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a 19-year NHL drought in June, becoming the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup championships since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. Sidney Crosby and Co. will raise the fifth championship banner in franchise history to the rafters Wednesday night before kicking off the season against the visiting St. Louis Blues.
Pittsburgh lost a glut of talent in the offseason but still has superstar captain Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as it sets its sights set on winning three straight Cups — a feat not achieved since the New York Islanders captured four straight championships from 1980-83. “It’s not easy winning twice. The teams will be even more geared up for us, but certainly we have a good enough team to win again,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “There’s a bunch of other teams that are good enough to win, but that’s our goal and I think we can do it.” Getting to the postseason is not the issue for St. Louis, which has made six consecutive trips to the playoffs but has advanced to the conference finals only once in that span. The Blues, who feature an elite scorer of their own in Vladimir Tarasenko, will hope to continue the momentum they generated last season after Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock behind the bench.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
ABOUT THE BLUES (46-29-7, 3rd in Central Division): St. Louis went 22-8-2 under Yeo and finished the regular season on a 15-2-2 run, regaining its defensive identity during a 15-game stretch in which it did not allow more than three goals. Tarasenko has amassed 116 goals over the past three seasons and Patrik Berglund (23) was the only other player on the roster to surpass 20, so the Blues attempted to address the scoring issue by acquiring Brayden Schenn, who tallied 25 times with Philadelphia while tying for the league lead with 17 power-play goals last season. Captain Alex Pietrangelo, coming off a career-best 14 goals, leads a solid defensive corps but the biggest key for St. Louis is in net. Jake Allen was so bad that he did not accompany the team on a road trip but posted a 1.85 goals-against average after Yeo took over.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (50-21-11, 2nd in Metropolitan Division): Crosby led the league in goals (44) and tied for second in scoring (89 points) while No. 2 center Malkin supplied 72 points in 62 games, yet there’s plenty of offense elsewhere. Phil Kessel and Conor Sheary netted 23 goals apiece, Patric Hornqvist chipped in 21 and rookie Jake Guentzel contributed 16 before a spectacular postseason in which he led all scorers with 13 tallies in 25 games. Justin Schultz had 12 goals and 51 points for a Pittsburgh defense that will receive a big boost with the return of standout Kris Letang, who appeared in only 41 games last season and missed the playoffs after undergoing neck surgery. Goaltender Matt Murray has appeared in only 62 regular-season games, but he’s 22-9 with a 1.95 goals-against average in two Stanley Cup title runs.
1. The Blues will be without injured Fs Alexander Steen and Berglund as well as D Jay Bouwmeester.
2. The Penguins acquired D Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round pick from Vancouver on Tuesday in exchange for D Derrick Pouliot.
3. Pittsburgh and St. Louis have split the two-game series in each of the past three seasons.
PREDICTION: Penguins 3, Blues 2