After an odd start where the Pittsburgh Penguins compiled a lot of points in the standings but still found a way to look, for lack of a better word, bad at times, they are now starting to look like the Penguins when they are at their best.
They go to Vancouver on Saturday night on a three-game winning streak that has included a great goaltending performance from Matt Murray in Toronto, a highly entertaining overtime win in Edmonton against Connor McDavid and the Oilers where Sidney Crosby put his stamp on the best player argument, and a completely dominant performance in Calgary where they scored nine goals.
Time now to check in with this week’s installment of Trending Penguins Players.
Sidney Crosby — Hey remember that slow start to the season with zero goals in six games? Yeah, it is over. The dam has broken over the past two days for Crosby with five total points, including three goals, two of which were absolutely ridiculous highlight reel goals; his overtime winner against Connor McDavid and the Oilers, and that obscene backhand goal to start the scoring on Thursday night in that 9-1 dismantling of the Flames.
It is not just the point production, either.
Over the past three games Crosby has been a force all over the ice, particularly in his two head-to-head matchups with Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid when he pretty much shut both of them down when he was on the ice against them. The Maple Leafs didn’t even get a shot on goal when Crosby vs. Matthews was happening, and in 20 head-to-head minutes against the two superstars Crosby was a 65 percent Corsi player.
Patric Hornqvist — It was also a tough start for Hornqvist as he had managed just a single point (an assist) in the first six games and found himself bouncing all over the lineup. Well, now he, too, can not stop scoring goals. With back-to-back two goal efforts Hornqvist is back on the board and starting to roll along.
You knew, even during his tough start, that he was eventually going to start producing again.
The effort and tenacity is always going to be there, and he’s too good to not start finding the back of the net, especially given how much of a volume shooter he is and how much he is always around the net. At some point a puck was going to deflect off of him, or he would get the right rebound in the right spot, or something would happen that would get him going.
Here we are.
Evgeni Malkin — Did you know that Evgeni Malkin, after yet another multi-point game on Thursday night (already his fifth of the season in just eight games), is only one point back of the league lead? I am not going to lie, this kind of shocked me when I saw it.
Not only that, he is sitting there even though he has played in two fewer games than everyone ahead of him (there are three players tied with 16 points) and tied with him (two others have 15 points). What is crazy about this is he really hasn’t looked great yet. Not bad, certainly good ... just not his best yet. That should be terrifying for the rest of the NHL. This guy is a monster.
Daniel Sprong — I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, and I’m not sure how a player can continue to be trending downward when he has been here in pretty much every update, but Sprong just keeps going in the wrong direction in every objective way. On Thursday he went from getting almost no ice time, to literally getting no ice time. Because he was healthy scratched. He had a promising start to the season with a couple of points in the first few games, a nice assist in Montreal, but there really has not been anything else to stand out. Maybe the coaching staff isn’t as high on him as the front office is. Maybe he needs a better chance and a longer leash to show what he can. Maybe he is still young and needs more time to develop.
Maybe ... he’s just not that good?
The thing that I find concerning about Sprong is that he rarely stands out when he is on the ice. Even Dominik Simon is always making some kind of a nifty little play or seems to be in a good position for a scoring chance, or actually creates a scoring chance. I just don’t see that with Sprong. And when combined with everything else, that worries me
Jack Johnson — Yes, he scored his first goal of the season on Thursday night, yes, Mike Sullivan spoke strongly in favor of his play, but we should still be concerned about the defensive play for all of the reasons I outlined on Wednesday. Specifically: Just as has been the case for his entire career, his team is always fishing the puck out of the net when he is on the ice.
Just one more number to throw out there: Of the past 12 goals the Penguins have given up in their past five games, No. 73 has been on the ice for nine of them. Sure that, too, is just a coincidence.
Chad Ruhwedel — This is more of a half-joking inclusion here, because you could probably include another defenseman — like an Olli Maatta — or maybe Derick Brassard, as the first-line wing experiment continues to produce mixed results, but we need to talk about the fact that in his first game of the season, in which he played 12 minutes in a 9-1 win, Chad Ruhwedel ... finished ... as a minus-one.
That is remarkable. I wonder if after such a game, when everyone is in a good mood during a winning streak, if teammates will give a player a hard time for that kind of stat line. You almost have to, don’t you?