Despite missing two star players in defenseman Kris Letang and winger James Neal due to injuries, the Pittsburgh Penguins have churned out a trio of wins to start their season.
Hard to believe for a franchise accustomed to more success than failure recently, but this is the best start to a season for the Penguins since the 1995 squad won its first seven games. Although they’ll be on the road Friday night for the first time this fall and will be starting rookie goalie Jeff Zatkoff, the Pens have a better-than-average chance of downing the Panthers, who have been outscored 18-7 while losing three of their first four.
Taking a longer view, the Penguins have a real shot of extending their sprint out of the starting gate. Pittsburgh will be in Tampa on Saturday, and while the Lightning have some dangerous offensive weapons, they still have to prove their defensive and goaltending deficiencies have been left in the past.
Next week, the youthful Oilers come to Consol Energy Center before the Pens take the short trip to face Philadelphia, which replaced former coach Peter Laviolette with Craig Berube after losing its first three. By the time Vancouver travels to Pittsburgh next Saturday, Dan Bylsma’s boys could easily be sporting a 7-0-0 record or something similar.
As the Blackhawks demonstrated last season, starting the year playing well is a pretty good indicator of a team’s staying power. So much can happen – from injuries to slumps – over the course of a six-month regular season, but rolling right from the start speaks well for a club’s professionalism and ability to self-motivate.
A team like the Penguins, whose only goal is to challenge for the Stanley Cup, could be excused for easing into the season and gradually ramping up the intensity as the playoffs approach. That their attention to detail has been this good in the first two weeks can only be a positive sign.
The manner in which Pittsburgh has won its first three is also promising. The Pens have outscored their opponents 12-3 and have netted the first two goals of each game, a solid formula for success. One could argue they should beat teams like the Devils, Sabres and Hurricanes, but there’s something to be said for taking care of business in non-dramatic fashion.
After a depressing four-game sweep at the hands of the Bruins in last spring’s Eastern Conference final, the Penguins could’ve been poised for a letdown as the 2013-14 season began. So far, they’ve avoided that predictable outcome.