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8.7 Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Penguins

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Evgeni Malkin MVP buzz? Can Jake Guentzel be key to the Pens trade deadline strategy? Justin Schultz's amazing season continues, Brian Dumoulin injury update, a Pens college prospect impressing and a look at Sidney Crosby's magic in some random thoughts on the Pens

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

#1: Midseason makes for the talking heads to begin floating names for MVP and other end-of-season awards. Last night on NBC a few of the national guys were talking up Evgeni Malkin, easy to do during a hat-trick performance. Sidney Crosby gets most the spotlight (and deservedly so with the number of goals and points/game he has this season) but Malkin is standing out as well. 21 goals + 28 assists in 43 games and the most impressive number there might be the 43, being as the team has played 43 games.

Malkin had to rehab his elbow last summer to avoid UCL surgery (also known as Tommy John surgery, a serious procedure that most commonly happens to baseball pitchers) and his health status was a bit unknown. Malkin's been far from an ironman in the past playing just 31*, 60, 69 and 57 games in the last few seasons (with the first being a 48-game lockout year).

Knock on wood this continues, because at age 30 Malkin's having his most impressive season since 2011-12, whether or not he's the MVP, his value is incredible.

#2: Speaking of impressive production, we're more than halfway through the NHL season and only four defensemen in the league have scored more points than Justin Schultz

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Sometimes I just keep looking it up to make sure it's still true. What a season Schultz is having. Could you imagine even in the playoffs when he was being heavily, heavily shielded that Justin Schultz would be needed to play almost 25 minutes against the Capitals and come out with 4 assists and a +2 on the night? What a career transformation.

#3 An update on the "how much leash will Jake Guentzel get this time by Mike Sullivan" question posed yesterday.

A relatively small 11:01 even strength, 9th lowest on the team, only the 4th line had less. Guentzel also got 0:24 on the power play that just happened to include the short-handed goal against, but overall seemingly had a good game. He was credited with a team high 6 hits (though none were really thumpers). He had 3 shot attempts (with none making it to goal, 2 were blocked, the other missed target). Guentzel's centering effort created the perfect setup for Malkin to take over and chip a goal in and earned him a primary assist.

A look at the shift chart reveals that at least he got 4 minutes of ice time (including a short shift with a minute left in regulation in a time game) which is pretty good. That game was so wild, I'm not sure too much can be taken from it, one way or another but I would think Guentzel performed well enough to get another game on Malkin's line.

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#4: It's also probably not a coincidence that Guentzel is back in the NHL at this point in time. The Penguins were on a three-game losing streak, but worse haven't been playing that well in the process of those losses. With the trade deadline approaching, Jim Rutherford has a couple of holes to consider addressing. The team could probably use a top-6 caliber winger for Malkin's line. Defensively they've been hit by injuries but messy. In net they're fine, but have a potential trade chip in Marc-Andre Fleury if they so choose to roll the dice now on Matt Murray's health.

Given the salary cap, and the fact that every national insider/expert are talking about just how difficult it's been to make a trade in today's NHL where no one seems terribly interested in giving out significant players, it's going to be really tough at best and potentially impossible for Pittsburgh to make a serious trade acquisition.

Bringing up Guentzel now to see if he can address one problem area also answers a question of where to focus on. If the Pens are good up front, GMJR can use all his time and energy to focus on how to add to the defense, if that's even a possibility.

#5: Posted this on twitter this weekend but worth expanding on:

Sam Lafferty (a Hollidaysburg, PA native) had a very quiet and forgettable freshman and sophomore seasons at Brown, scoring just a few points per game in both seasons. He hasn't even cracked the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25, which is pretty telling since the team doesn't really have a lot of great young prospects with all the focus on trading draft picks for NHL help.

Lafferty (4th round pick by Pittsburgh in 2014) scored 2 more points in the game Recchi was on hand to watch, and is up to 24 points (6g+18a) in 17 games. It's way too early to project him to an NHL role, and he's probably more Josh Archibald than even Scott Wilson (let alone throw a name like Guentzel in the comparison) at this point....But Lafferty is definitely opening the eyes of a lot in the organization and seems like a prospect to keep half-an-eye on in the future.

#6: Also from the twitter machine, former Penguin Craig Adams is new to the platform and trying to raise money for the ALS cause that he's done so much for. Worth your awareness and consideration to support if you can, for sure and wanted to share here since it wasn't getting a lot of attention.

#7: Brian Dumoulin has been on the ice working again, and today marks a painful 3-week anniversary of the puck that hit his face and broke his jaw. His absence was announced to be 4-6 weeks, and given his progress it sure looks like Dumo is on the early end of that timeline. With the state of the Penguins defense and career AHL guys like Steve Oleksy, Chad Ruhwedel and David Warsofsky all looking over-matched at times lately in NHL duty, the return of Dumoulin would be welcome news for sure.

#8.7: The magic of Sidney Crosby never fails to amaze. Yeah, it's a minor note but just of course Sidney Crosby moves into 87th place in all-time NHL scoring in an 8-7 victory.