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Pensburgh Ups and Downs: March 2017

A look at who performed well and who didn't based on individual performances in an injury-filled month that still saw a lot of winning for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In February we used the Ups and Downs to bemoan the 8 injuries the Pittsburgh Penguins suffered during that month. Unfortunately, things would go from bad to worse in March with more injuries and several key players missing the entire month. The defense was especially ravaged with a thin group that sometimes got exposed. Skilled forwards weren't immune either with guys like Malkin, Sheary and Guentzel all missing time.

Overall, the team wasn't terrible going 9-4-3; often finding ways to win. The highlight of the month might have been starting 3-0-1 on a compressed Western road trip, the lowpoints would surely be two flat performances against Philadelphia getting outscored a combined 10-2. Gross.

In brighter news, most of the injuries seem to have a timetable to return by the playoffs. Let's hope.

Past 2016-17 Ups and Downs:

As a reminder, the criteria is sort of like the stock market. We judge on performance, relative expectations and where the player is perceived now, compared to where they were at the beginning of the season. A 4th line player could get a green arrow up, a 1st line player could get a red arrow down, and that certainly does not mean the former is a better player than the latter, just that he is living more up to the expectations of his role right now.

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury Started 6 games posting a mediocre record (3-2-2) but his best individual stats (2.31 GAA, .931 save%) of any month in the season. After the trading deadline passed with no trade, Fleury settled down and played well in front of a banged up team. Despite that, he remains the clear backup in the eyes of the coach.
Matt Murray Started 10 of the 16 games of the month posting a good record (6-2-1) but some of his worst individual stats (2.85 GAA, .910 save%) of his NHL career. Murray's trying to weather the storm of the injuries, and sometimes he's pulled through but sometimes he's allowing goals.
Ian Cole Pretty good month for Cole who ended up going 1g+5a, playing 20:29 per game (which was only 4th most among Pens defensemen, believe it or not). Feels like he plays a lot more sometimes. Cole played well despite a few lapses, but playing well is starting to be the new norm for him.
Trevor Daley Missed the whole month after February knee surgery, now skating before practice with a timeline to return at just about the start of the playoffs.
Brian Dumoulin Dumoulin had the 2nd most ice-time (21:29) and best plus/minus among the defense at +5 on the month. He's not putting up many points (0g+3a) but he's chewing up minutes and the puck is going into the right net.
Ron Hainsey Injured and missed time towards the end of the month but when he played, he played well (9gp, 0g+2a, +4). Now that Hainsey's healthy again he should finally be able to make his NHL playoff debut at age 36.
Kris Letang Missed the entire month with what's said to be a back injury. Last week Mike Sullivan seemed confident Letang would be ready to play for the playoffs, however recent whispers of a setback abound. What to believe? Who knows, seeing is believing and hopefully we'll be seeing Letang back on the ice with his teammates soon, being as it's t-minus 2 weeks to the playoffs.
Olli Maatta The trifecta of defensemen who missed the entire month. Maatta's working to get back from his broken hand and seems on track to be ready for right around the start of the playoffs.
Chad Ruhwedel Played 15 games on the month, also seeming to deal with an injury of late but still played 18 minutes a night. Decent enough stats (0g+4a), who knew Ruhwedel would be an important NHL player this deep into the season but as a right-handed shot who can be steady he is. Seems to be a depth player once health returns, however.
Justin Schultz The wagon is hooked to Schultz right now, who averaged 24 minutes a night in March. That's a bit too much and starting to show at even strength (he was a defense-worst -4 in the month) but his offense is still there. 3g+6a on the month, including 6 power play points (2g+4a) that led the entire team.
Mark Streit Proving to be a very wise depth pickup, Streit played 15 games scoring 6 points (1g+5a) with 5 of those points coming on the power play. It remains to be seen where or how the 39-year old may fit once guys like Maatta and Daley are cleared to play, but he's shown that he still has enough in the tank to contribute if needed.
Nick Bonino Bonino only had 9 total goals all season in the first 5 months up to March 1, he ends up scoring 7 goals in March alone. The highlight was a hat trick on 3/8 against Winnipeg. Only 2 assists on the month, but hey first things first, nice to see Bonino show some signs of life producing goals for the first time this season.
Sidney Crosby With so many injuries, Crosby was the constant for the Pens, leading the team in goals (9) and points (17) in March. His month wasn't perfect with the hack of a finger and balls to stir up controversy, plus a six game streak of no assists ending on 3/30 against NYR, but Crosby continues to push on.
Matt Cullen As usual, solid production in his role with 6 points (2g+4a) on the month. Also, interestingly 10 PIMs were the most of a non-Sestito forward. Hopefully the vet (and a key piece of the PK) can avoid sitting in the penalty box come playoff time.
Jake Guentzel Guentzel became a legitimate 1st line forward in March, scoring 11 points (5g+6a) in 12 games. Missed 4 games with a concussion but returned on 3/31 and looked good scoring a goal.
Carl Hagelin Blocked a hard shot on 3/8 in the foot/ankle but somehow played on 3/10 but not again. Had surgery, spent time on crutches and is now in a walking boot. Timeline was announced at 4-6 weeks which could mean missing the beginning of the playoffs.
Patric Hornqvist Hornqvist missed 5 games with a concussion and hasn't really looked himself since returning. Reasonable but minimal production (2g+3a in 11 games) only included 3 even strength points. Now separated from Crosby, PH72 has to find some way to get on the scoreboard more.
Phil Kessel On the surface, not the worst month for Phil with 10 points in 16 games. Dig a little deeper though and the 1 goal in 16 games just isn't ideal. For as much of the narrative as "he isn't shooting", 42 SOG in March is 2.6 per game, for the season he's at 2.75. Perhaps he needs better shots or to create more quality chances but he could also use better linemates. Either way, hopefully the goals come more plentiful in April.
Tom Kuhnhackl Kuhnhackl records 5 points (1g+4a), a monthly season-high to go along with 16 SOG (also a season-high) and 27 hits plus 10 blocked shots (the latter, you guessed it also a season best). Kuhnhackl's March was his finest month of the season and a fine time to have it.
Chris Kunitz An injury suffered on 3/31 saves Kunitz (0g+2a and a -6 in 16 games) from a down arrow. With all the injuries mounting it would have been great for CK14 to kick it up a notch but it's unfortunate that he couldn't and then got hurt which is even more unfortunate.
Evgeni Malkin What a wild ride of a month for Malkin. He was electric when he played (7g+3a in just 8 games), got in a fight with Blake Wheeler and then got hurt blocking a shot on 3/13 against CGY and hasn't played since 3/15. The Pens seem confident Malkin will be ready for the playoffs, hopefully the time off will do him well to come back strong.
Carter Rowney Appearing in 13 games, Rowney's becoming a late season regular by virtue of the injuries. He doesn't really add a lot tangibly (1g+1a, only 12 SOG, 43.1% in the faceoff circle) but is decent enough all-around not to be a total anchor. The Penguins have probably had worse REGULAR 4th liners in recent years past, so we'll just have to live with it until more players get healthy.
Bryan Rust Came back for the last four games of the month, scoring 2 goals and looking dangerous with fresh legs. Rust adds a lot of energy and a dash of skill to a lineup that needs it badly.
Conor Sheary Wonderful month for Sheary who notched 16 points (4g+12a) in 15 games and has been a wonderful cog in one of the best lines in the league.
Tom Sestito Called up to add muscle for Winnipeg's revenge game, Sestito was a disaster. He made a terrible, injurious hit on Toby Enstrom, got suspended for 4 games and then was dressed 2 more games apparently to show he wasn't called up just to goon it up for one game. Then he mysteriously got "hurt" and hasn't been seen since.
Oskar Sundqvist Got into his first 9 games of the NHL season but didn't make too much of it (no points, -3, 30.4% faceoff) and was quickly demoted when the team returned to health. Doesn't necessarily mean too much going forward but Sundqvist didn't exactly make a ton of the opportunity he had to wait for so long this season.
Scott Wilson Wilson scored one goal this month, as per usual, all the way back on 3/1 and ended the month on a nine game point-less streak. With the Kunitz injury, maybe a bigger chance for Wilson to play in the playoffs but he really isn't bringing a ton to the table now in a 4th line role (doesn't kill penalties, doesn't produce much).