Penguins look to get off on right foot vs. Sabres

The Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Buffalo Sabres are each looking for a new beginning -- albeit in very different contexts -- heading into their season-opening contest on Thursday.

The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups while qualifying for the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons, however the club was frustrated and embarrassed after being swept by the New York Islanders in the first round in the spring.

That led to one big offseason move, trading six-time 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel to Arizona, after Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford initially hinted at a bigger shakeup and accused his club of complacency in the emotional shadow of the early exit.

One of the concerns for 2019-20 was whether Evgeni Malkin could bounce back from a down season -- by his standards -- in which he scored 21 goals, a career low for a full campaign. The former Hart Trophy recipient also was plagued by costly penalties and turnovers amid suggestions that friction existed between himself and coach Mike Sullivan.

"I'll be fine," Malkin said late in training camp after what was apparently a grueling offseason workout regimen. "I believe in myself. I'm all right. I'm not nervous. ... (I need to) be smart. Listen to Coach. Talk to him. Play simple sometimes.

"Just be myself, have fun, and I know this will be a good year for me."

That sentiment is pervasive among the Penguins.

"I think (training camp was) good. I think everyone worked and competed hard," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think we competed hard, did some good things. It's a process. It doesn't happen Game 1, but I think our mentality and that kind of thing, I think it's in the right spot going into Game 1."

Crosby seems good to go Thursday after a scare in the team's final preseason game. He got hit in the foot with a shot and left Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to Buffalo, but he was able to resume his normal practice.

The Sabres did not bring their top lineup in that game, leaving the likes of captain Jack Eichel and top-line forward Jeff Skinner at home. Those two and their offensive punch will be critical to the Sabres when the games count in the standings.

Buffalo, in contrast to Pittsburgh, has missed the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons to account for the longest drought in the league.

"The issue of the longest drought isn't going to change our mindset at all, but of course you want to end it," Eichel told The Buffalo News.

General manager Jason Botterill made an interesting move in the offseason when he hired 60-year-old Ralph Krueger as coach. Krueger had been out of the NHL for six years and was working in Europe.

"The great thing with Ralph is that he pulls out and learns so much from every experience he goes through," Botterill told The Athletic. "You can tell from just sitting down with him for just a few minutes just how fired up and how excited he is about being here."

--Field Level Media