The Penguins have been lauded all season for their depth, especially after the trade deadline, and now with Zach Aston-Reese ruled out with a broken jaw and concussion thanks to Tom Wilson (ugh), their deep roster is what’s going to be front and center on everyone’s radar moving forward. It might also be what ultimately saves them in this second round series with the Capitals.
There are many arguments stating that Evgeni Malkin is the guy that needs to go off in the remainder of this series, and they’re 100% warranted; an explosive point streak from him is exactly what Pittsburgh needs right now, especially when you consider how the Russian center hasn’t yet had time to acquaint himself with the Capitals this postseason due to his injury to start the series.
But to me, I think it’s more so that its other stars (i.e., Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard) need to start producing at a regular rate, rather than leaving it all on the shoulders of the top forward line and Malkin. Sidney Crosby has been on the ice for all seven of the Penguins’ goals this series, and while he’s on a seemingly unstoppable tear right now, sole reliance on him isn’t enough. These two need to kick it into a higher gear.
It’s worth mentioning that Kessel might still be hurting from his shoulder injury sustained against the Hurricanes back in February — he really hasn’t looked quite right every since the postseason began, scoring only one goal in nine playoff games so far. He has five assists, but it hasn’t made too much of an effect. Big games are his specialty, but the third head for Pittsburgh’s three-headed monster has basically been a ghost. Kessel has also only managed five shots on goal in the past five tilts.
Then there’s Brassard, who was acquired not only for depth purposes in the secondary, but for his highly-touted history of producing in the postseason. Though he’s shined in a handful of moments since being brought to Pittsburgh, he’s only scored four goals in 23 games as a Penguin, and has only one goal and two assists total in this year’s playoffs so far. Those numbers need to sky-rocket, starting with this series against Washington, otherwise it might be a short postseason. Mike Sullivan even went as far as to demote him to the fourth line in Game 3.
The two don’t necessarily need to start constantly scoring goals (though that’d be great), they just need to find consistency and get involved in scoring plays more often than they have been. Setting up teammates and tallying up assists, filling lanes on breakaways, connecting great passes for clear shots on goal, peppering Braden Holtby at every turn, etc. All of these things could be improved.
We made the argument a few days ago that Carl Hagelin could be the dark horse answer to the Penguins woes, but I’d be remiss to not mention that Conor Sheary, Riley Sheahan, and Dominik Simon (who’s been rather horrid if we’re being honest) also need to emerge from their scoring funks.
Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Patric Hornqvist can’t do it all forever — even though it sort of seems like they can. Enter Kessel and Brassard, and maybe the Penguins won’t be stressing so much to put the puck in the back of the net.