It has been a bizarre week for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What has happened since we checked in on the Trending Penguins Players a week ago?
The Penguins played a strong game in Ottawa but could not break through offensively and ended up losing in overtime. They came back a couple of nights later and won in a shootout in New York thanks to a Derick Brassard goal in regulation and a Jake Guentzel winning-goal in the fourth round. With those two results, the Penguins were on a 6-2-3 run that had brought them back closer to a playoff spot. They were getting results, the underlying numbers were trending up, things were looking good! Then they had a game on Wednesday night in Chicago against the worst team in hockey that had lost 19 out of 22 games, including eight in a row. It was a good opportunity to keep stacking points in the standings.
Naturally, the Penguins completely fell flat and got doubled on the scoreboard.
If they can take care of business on this upcoming three game homestand against the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks it will be easily forgotten and be nothing more than a blip on the radar during an otherwise strong stretch to get the season back on track. If they do not take care of business it will probably just be another example of the team taking two big steps back after taking some big steps forward.
Who Is Up
Bryan Rust — Bryan Rust was the bright spot in the Penguins’ 6-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night because he not only scored all three goals (after scoring just one all season before that), but because he probably could have scored four or five goals in the game.
He basically played like Game 7 Bryan Rust and it was a welcome change compared to what the Penguins have received from him all season prior to that. Was this the breakout game that Rust needed? The Penguins better hope so given how much they are paying him and how important he is to the success of the team. When Rust is at his best he is an incredibly valuable, versatile player that can play any role on any line. The Penguins need him to be that player again.
Kris Letang — Kris Letang played 62 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this past week. In those minutes the Penguins were a 68 percent shot attempt team (93 for, 43 against), a 70 percent scoring chance team (42 for, 18 against), a 65 percent high-danger scoring chance team (21 for, 11 against), and outscored teams by a 2-1 margin. He not only deserves to be in Norris Trophy consideration this season, at this point he should be one of the front-runners. For the season his 0.83 points per game average would be the third highest of his career while his 56.1 percent shot attempt share would be the best mark of his career. He is also leading the team in shots on goal with 99 entering play on Friday. Simply the best player on the team right now.
(H/T Natural Stat Trick)
Who Is Not
Evgeni Malkin — This was a tough week for Evgeni Malkin. In the three games he failed to record a point, was a minus-5, took two penalties, and probably played his worst stretch of hockey of the season. We should probably not worry too much about it, either. It’s a long season and individual players go through peaks and valleys, even the very best ones. This past week was a valley for Malkin. Like most of the players on the team his possession numbers were off the charts, so there is probably an element of bad luck to some of those numbers, but still — he can be better, he has been better, and he will be better, probably sooner rather than later.
Phil Kessel — His week was nearly identical to Malkin’s in the sense that he created some shots, had strong underlying numbers, but just seemed to be at the center of a lot of bad things happening. Other than a shootout goal against the Islanders he was held off the scoresheet and just had a tough week in general. Also like Malkin it is only a matter of time until he gets back on track.
Jamie Oleksiak — This kind of goes back to what we talked about on Monday with the different defense pairings, but Jamie Oleksiak has really struggled lately, no matter who he has been paired with on the blue line. The Oleksiak-Olli Maatta pairing has been especially troublesome. His struggles are a bit disappointing because of how strong he was at the start of the year. It really looked like he was taking a big step forward but right now I wouldn’t mind seeing him be the odd-man out on the blue line in place of Juuso Riikola ... even over Jack Johnson, who has also really struggled.