If you wanted to know how the first quarter of the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins season has been going just consider this: A week where they were crushed by the Ottawa Senators but made a late push-back in the third period, gained a point against the Buffalo Sabres by losing in overtime after letting a 4-1 second period lead slip away (while having an extended two-man advantage with the 4-1 lead in the second period), then finally won by feasting on a mediocre Dallas Stars team playing without several key players was considered ... taking a step in the right direction.
These are weird times!
After all of that Penguins enter Friday’s game in Boston with 20 points in the standings and sitting five points out of the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. Not where they want to be. Not where they need to be. Not where they should be. They are, at the very least, starting to show some flashes here and there that maybe — maybe! — they are going to start turning things around.
Getting a healthy Sidney Crosby and Derick Brassard back in the lineup certainly helps, and we start this week’s Trending Players by taking a look at the former.
He is back. He is great. He is going to be the difference.
Sidney Crosby — He has only been back for one game, but W-O-W what a game it was. Maybe all they needed was him back in the lineup. Or a game against a tired, depleted Dallas Stars team. Or perhaps just all three of their centers in the game at the same time because when Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Derick Brassard all play the Penguins’ record is everything you would expect it to be.
Going back to before the injury that sidelined him for a few games, Crosby is now on a four-game point streak. He has recorded at least two points in each of the previous three games.
His performance on Wednesday was particularly dominant and it started early in the game when he set up Jake Guentzel for the game’s first goal and then scored another vintage Crosby goal where he just made an NHL defender and goaltender just look completely helpless when he gets rolling. He set the tone in this one, never letting up.
Tanner Pearson — Was it as simple as getting him out of Los Angeles and on to a team with high-end talent around him? After a quiet debut with the Penguins following the Carl Hagelin trade, Pearson has erupted offensively the past two games with two goals and an assist after recording just one assist in the 19 games with the Kings and Penguins that preceded the past two.
He looked really good in the first half of the Buffalo game on Monday, and his goal against the Stars on Wednesday night was an absolute laser of a shot. Still think when he is at his best he is probably a 45-50 point player (50 points if the Penguins are lucky) over the course of an 82-game season, but that is still going to be a pretty significant upgrade over what they were getting from Hagelin offensively. They are still going to miss Hagelin’s defense, penalty killing, and 200-foot game, but Evgeni Malkin needs someone on his line that is going to put the puck in the net and Pearson looks like he might be someone that will be able to do that a little more regularly.
Patric Hornqvist — He is still on a roll. After letting that two-goal lead slip away against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Hornqvist was defiant about the team’s chances and said it might only take one shift to get things turned around. He was one of the players that showed up in Ottawa for the next game, and has been on a roll offensively.
He has eight points, including four goals, in his past four games.
Still not ready to say that third period push-back against Ottawa or that win over Dallas on Wednesday night is the start of a turnaround, but give Hornqvist credit for trying to make good on his word.
Chad Ruhwedel — Ruhwedel is fine as a No. 7 or 8 defender. He is great organizational depth for when you need a defender to fill in for a game or two. If you need to play him regularly or often over an extended stretch of games he is going to start to get exposed. There should be fear that has happened lately because he has absolutely had a bit of a rough patch. He had a particularly tough game against Buffalo on Monday, sat on Wednesday’s game, and his overall numbers for the season are rough.
In just a little more than 170 minutes of ice-time this season he has yet to record a point and is a minus-8 on the season. Not a plus-minus fan by any means, but it is pretty telling if you are one of the worst players on the team (only Riley Sheahan and Jack Johnson are worse than Ruhwedel at this point) when it comes to goal differential when you have played as little as Ruhwedel has.
Dominik Simon — Been a big fan of Dominik Simon’s game this season, but lately his production and overall play has taken a pretty significant hit. He has not recorded a point in five games and has just two points (both in the same game — that 4-0 shutout win over the Arizona Coyotes a couple of weeks ago — over his previous nine games. Regression to the mean stinks.