Change For Change’s Sake May Be Good Enough For Pittsburgh Penguins


Sep 29, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Johnston looks on during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Penguins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As the Pittsburgh Penguins get set to take the ice for their 47th season on Thursday night against Anaheim, we have little idea what to expect.

The head coach-general manager combination that led them for the previous five full campaigns is gone, as Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero have been replaced by Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford.

All-pro winger James Neal has left town, traded to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

The blue-line duo of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, formerly the longest-tenured Penguin, signed with the Capitals in tandem.

Yeah, Beau Bennett is hurt again, but Kasperi Kapanen could prove to be the first rookie pro winger to make an impact with Pittsburgh since Ryan Malone in 2003-04.

Longtime NHL irritant Steve Downie is on the roster, with new assistant coach Rick Tocchet – Downie’s former bench boss in Tampa – presumably watching his old player’s every move to ensure he channels his passion into productivity.

Hey, even the uniforms will be altered for 12 out of the 82 regular-season games, as the Pens looked to the early 1990s for inspiration on their new alternate threads.

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In other words, things will be different in a lot of ways. And that may be a very good thing.

Things had gotten stale at Consol Energy Center, or at least that’s what Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle determined when they decided to turn the ship in a different direction.

The talent level of this year’s team is still quite similar to the past several editions, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin manning the top two center positions, Kris Letang and Paul Martin joining free-agent signing Christian Ehrhoff on a puck-moving defense corps, and Marc-Andre Fleury still presumably the starter in net.

The Penguins still look thin at winger and on the bottom two forward lines in general, but it’ll be intriguing to see how Johnston’s approach to the game translates with this roster. By most accounts, he will emphasize patience with the puck instead of forcing it up the ice, as Bylsma’s teams did to a fault at times.

In his introductory press conference, Rutherford said the team that starts this season will not match the one we see in the spring. He also alluded to a de facto trial period for the club, at least until December arrives.

A wait-and-see approach appears to be prudent. It also might be refreshing for a team that hasn’t performed up to playoff expectations since 2009.

Change for change’s sake is nothing to shrug at, especially in the case of these Penguins.