When you go on a month-long stretch that sees your team go 15-3-1, it is probably because two different things are happening at the same time.
First, it probably means you are playing really, really, really well.
It also probably means you are getting a lot of luck, a lot of breaks to go your way, and some outstanding goaltending.
All of that was happening for the Penguins. None of it is going to continue forever, and eventually some of those breaks are going to work against you, some of the bounces are not going to go your way, and the goaltending is not going to maintain a .940-plus save percentage.
Welcome to the west coast road trip.
Things started with some excitement a week ago with a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Anaheim Ducks, before hitting a snag the next night in Los Angeles and then again in San Jose on Tuesday. They still have two more games to make it a positive trip before they get eight days off for the bye week and the All-Star break. Before then, we shall take a look at who is hot and who is not in this week’s version of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Jake Guentzel — So far that new contract extension is looking like a steal with the way he has been playing. Overall, he has at least one point in 20 of his past 26 games, is putting together the best offensive season of his young career, and has been white-hot over the past week with five goals in the first three games of the road trip out west. That includes his second hat trick of the season in the Penguins’ wild come-from-behind win in Anaheim. He is averaging close to a point-per-game this season, has already set a new career high in goals scored (the season is barely half over!), and is on pace to score 41 goals this season. Keep in mind the only Penguins players to score at least 40 goals in a season over the past 20 years are Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Petr Nedved, and Alex Kovalev. Does playing alongside Crosby help? Of course. But like I’ve said before, there is still something to be said for being able to capitalize on the chances that provides, and no one has been able to do it better on Crosby’s wing than Guentzel has.
Sidney Crosby — It has not been Crosby’s best week on the stat sheet, at least as it relates to the box score numbers, but he has definitely been one of the other bright spots. I thought he was downright dominant in Anaheim where the Ducks never seemed to have an answer for him and his line, while he and Guentzel finally capitalized on one of those shorthanded chances when they opened the scoring in Los Angeles. Overall he was only on the ice for one goal against all week, was at 70 percent in the shot attempt shares, and pushing 60 percent when it comes to scoring chances. He has been great, even if it has not resulted in a ton of individual points.
Who Is Not
Riley Sheahan — My big concern with trading Derek Grant and the inevitable trade of Derick Brassard is that it could mean more of a role for Riley Sheahan. That is not something that benefits the Penguins. I like Sheahan as a fourth-line center, but anything more than that and I think you’re asking for too much. This past week in particular was a tough one for him as he didn’t record a single point, was a minus-four (on for zero goals for and four against), and had the worst possession and scoring chance marks on the team. Basically, when he was on the ice this past week (nearly 14 minutes per game) the Penguins were getting crushed. He has taken a big step backwards overall this season.
The Goalies — Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith have played so well over the past month-and-a-half that it was almost at an unsustainable level and some kind of a regression was inevitable. This past week, that regression happened a bit. Neither goalie has been particularly good on the Western Conference road trip, though I will say that Murray did not have much of a chance in San Jose because that game was just a mess from pretty much everybody in front of him. Still, when your two goalies combine for a save percentage under .850 for the week that is not going to result in many wins.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick.)