PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby doesn’t expect the new-look Pittsburgh Penguins to lack motivation.
“For guys that played last year, obviously not happy with the way things finished,” the Penguins center said following the first practice of training camp Monday. “I think we’ll be highly motivated that way. I think regardless of what kind of situation you’re coming into, the change is going to be something that makes us better.”
Losing to the Montreal Canadiens in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season resulted in the Penguins looking quite different entering this season. Mike Sullivan returns as coach, as does the core of Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.
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But Sullivan comes back with a new set of assistant coaches, and a few key names have departed, including two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Matt Murray, forward Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Justin Schultz.
Pittsburgh acquired forward Kasperi Kapanen in a six-player trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Aug. 25, and forward Colton Sceviour and defenseman Mike Matheson on Sept. 24 in a trade that sent Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers. Tristan Jarry will be the unquestioned No. 1 goalie after Murray was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 7, and Schultz signed a two-year contract with the Washington Capitals on Oct. 9.
Todd Reirden and Mike Vellucci were named assistants Sept. 2 after former assistants Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin were fired Aug. 12.
Crosby said some change was inevitable, but the amount the Penguins face is a result of losing seven of their past eight games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think that, regardless of whether you win or lose, sometimes just with the way things are set up, it’s hard to keep a team together,” said the Pittsburgh captain, who scored 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games last season; he missed 28 games after having core muscle surgery Nov. 14, 2019.
“But especially when you lose, there’s always going to be shake-up. I think for guys coming in, they’ll be excited for a new opportunity.”
The Penguins, who normally have been seen as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup through most of Crosby’s 15 NHL seasons, now could be overlooked.
Letang might prefer it that way.
“I think when you don’t have all the eyes on you, you can actually probably focus more on your game,” Letang said. “Focus on preparing and trying to get better without having the spotlight on your team.”
Letang, who scored 100 points (31 goals, 69 assists) in 126 games the past two regular seasons but had one assist in eight playoff games during the same span, said he sees potential in this group.
“I think we got a lot faster, to be honest,” Letang said. “Every guy that’s coming in, they bring an element of speed, and obviously the makeup of our team is a little bit of the same, the same core guys. So it’s fun to have familiar faces at the same time.”
Sullivan agreed, saying he was pleased with how prepared the players were Monday.
“We think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish today,” Sullivan said. “From our standpoint, it’s exciting to be back with these guys and to have the opportunity to do what we love to do. I think there’s a certain level of enthusiasm in the air today, both off the ice and on the ice. We’ll continue to build on that.”
From the length of camp, to the health and safety precautions, to the relative lack of expectations from outside the locker room, Crosby said almost everything feels different entering his 16th season. But one thing hasn’t changed.
“Just as far as the excitement, the anticipation and all that stuff, that’s all the same with the time of year and getting ready to play,” Crosby said. “So I think that’s similar.”