Penguins finally show signs that the Kyle Dubas overhaul has promise

The Penguins have not impressed out of the gate, but Thursday's game made their offseason moves look good.

The presence of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang makes the Pittsburgh Penguins feel like a familiar squad, but this is a group that had quite a busy summer.

Adding Erik Karlsson to the blue line was the biggest move by incoming president and GM Kyle Dubas, but the Penguins also traded for Reilly Smith and made additions throughout the lineup.

Reilly Smith had his best game with the Penguins on Thursday night. (Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Reilly Smith, left, had his best game with the Penguins on Thursday night. (Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh is currently using six forwards it didn't have in 2022-23 (the whole bottom-six except for Jeff Carter plus Smith), and three new defensemen (Karlsson, Ryan Graves, and Ryan Shea). In goal, Tristan Jarry is back, but he reached free agency before returning. The team's first choice for a backup goaltender — Alex Nedeljkovic — was added on July 1. He's injured now, leaving Magnus Hellberg sitting behind Jarry.

Putting it all together, Dubas and the team's new front office regime turned over more than half of the team. The initial results of that remix were not strong. The Penguins lost four of their first six games with defeats against teams they were expected to beat, like the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

Karlsson was relatively quiet, Smith was solid but hardly world-beating, the new bottom-six produced almost nothing, and Jarry had an .892 save percentage in his first four outings.

But Pittsburgh flipped the script on Thursday, knocking off a previously undefeated Colorado Avalanche team by a score of 4-0.

Not only did the Penguins take down an opponent that had been steamrolling the NHL, they did so on the backs of the offseason acquisitions.

Smith was the headliner with two goals, continuing his strong partnership with Malkin and Rickard Rakell. Lars Eller scored his first goal with Pittsburgh, and just the second all season from the team's bottom-two lines.

Jarry also gave the team plenty of reason to feel good about his extension with a 34-save shutout during a game where the Avalanche managed 3.21 expected goals. Now his season-long save percentage sits at a solid .917.

A single game does not prove the Penguins are destined for great things in 2023-24.

Concerns about this team's aged roster are still valid. Karlsson has yet to establish himself as the dominant offensive force he's been in the past — and his presence has yet to boost a power play that currently ranks 28th in the NHL (11.1%).

The new-look bottom-six group looks far from potent and big-ticket blue-line addition Graves has the worst possession numbers of any defenseman on the team (xGF% of 45.77).

It would be fair to look at the way the Penguins have re-tooled and be unimpressed. What Thursday did was provide a sliver of hope that Pittsburgh is a team that's coming together.

While the Penguins have a stable core, continuity is not the club's strength — and it's reasonable to wonder whether it will simply take some time for all the pieces to fit together neatly. Skepticism is still warranted on a few fronts, but Thursday's game was a huge win for a team that needed a boost.