Five Penguins players who would do well to pick up where they left off
Many of the 45 players still in training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins are working to reach heights they never before have seen. They’re young players trying to elbow their way onto an NHL roster.
Others are trying to return to a place of dominance that they recently held. Matt Murray and Kris Letang, coming off seasons considered subpar by their standards, qualify.
But what about the others?
When the Penguins saw their season end in the second round of the playoffs last year, it’s not like everyone on the team was in a tailspin.
A handful of players — Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist, to name five — had to like the trajectories their seasons were on.
Here’s a look at how they’re trying to pull off the trick of carrying momentum through a four-month offseason:
Crosby has been one of the most consistent performers in the NHL over the past four seasons, recording between 84 and 89 points every year. That doesn’t mean he’s immune to streakiness, though, and at the end of last season, he was hot. It culminated in a scorching stretch of 21 points in 12 playoff games.
His plan to keep it going was hatched in the gym and on the practice ice over the summer.
“The prior two summers, you didn’t feel like you could really gain anything in the summer. They were so short,” Crosby said. “You were trying to get back to even, feeling healthy, a lot of rehab stuff. This summer, you had time to get your speed up to where it needs to be, your strength.”
Guentzel was a streaky goal scorer last season, going through droughts that lasted 11, 10, eight and seven games. The playoffs weren’t a drought, though. They were a deluge: 10 goals in 12 games.
Guentzel said his offseason focus had nothing to do with maintaining momentum. His motivation came from another source.
“You never want to lose. I think when you go through that, you get a sour taste in your mouth,” he said. “There are positives from it, but you want to win.”
Hagelin’s goal isn’t to recapture a hot streak he enjoyed at the end of the season. It’s to keep a long-term trend headed in the right direction.
Hagelin managed just two goals and six points in the first half of last season. After that, he hooked up with Evgeni Malkin on the second line and posted 25 points in his last 39 games.
“My goal this year is to start off well. No excuses,” Hagelin said. “It’s about doing the right things to stay healthy early on. I’ve had some issues early on in the season. This year, because of the time we had, I was able to make sure I could build up on muscles around where my issue has been.”
Maatta tied a career high with 29 points last season, then found himself on the ice for just one five-on-five goal against in 12 playoff games.
When it came time to hit the gym in the summer, though, Maatta said his personal successes offered him no feeling of complacency.
“If you want to get better as a player, I know you’ve got to get selfish sometimes, but the most hunger comes out when you don’t do well as a team,” Maatta said. “You’re pretty much measured by championships. That’s what people are going to remember. That’s in the back of your head the whole time.”
Of all the players on the roster, Hornqvist is the most likely to pick up exactly where he left off in the playoffs, where he racked up five goals and 11 points in 10 games.
That’s not because he has the secret to carrying momentum over a summer. It’s because he plays the exact same game every time his skates touch the ice: straight ahead and relentless.
“You see how he works and how he prepares himself,” Guentzel said. “As a young guy, you kind of look up to that.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.