After what can only be described as an uninspiring — and probably frustrating — start to the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were at least able to split their season-opening four-game homestand with a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night. Given the opponents they had a 2-2 split may seem a but underwhelming, but given the current makeup of the forward group, and the way the season started, they will most certainly take it.
With the first four games and the second week of the season in the books it is time for our weekly Penguins stock report to see who is up and who is not.
It has been a little bit of a mixed bag so far.
Who Is Up
Sidney Crosby — This is an easy one. The one constant through the first four games has been the simple fact that Crosby is not going to let this season slip away from the Penguins. He was one of the few lone bright spots against Winnipeg on Tuesday and pretty much put the team on his back on Thursday (offensively, anyway) to generate both goals. The only concern right now is the fact that he is being asked to play a TON of minutes. He is 32 and is still, at worst, the second most impactful player in the league with a strong argument to be made he is still the most impactful. Four games, six points, and carrying an injured, undermanned team. What a player.
John Marino — Am including Marino here because his stock with the Penguins is, quite literally, up right now. They freaking love this guy. So much so that they were willing to mess up their lineup on Tuesday to put him in (just scratch someone else on defense!) before giving him a regular shift on Thursday (because they scratched someone else on defense!). He also looked pretty solid and it seems to be universally agreed upon that he played well. What is striking about that is his on-ice numbers (shots, chances, etc.) were not great, though I wonder how much of that was him, and how much of that was being paired with — well — you know.
Kind of in the middle
Matt Murray — He was one of the Penguins’ best, most consistent players through the first two games of the season and then he had an absolutely terrible game against Winnipeg. Probably every goal he allowed was one that he should have stopped, and then he allowed another brutal one in the second period against the Ducks. We tend to judge goalies only on the goals they allow, so it was easy to be a little down on him at that point. But he really rebounded well against Anaheim and gave the Penguins exactly what they needed. Overall, I think he has been very good for the season with one really brutal game mixed in. If the Penguins are going to remain competitive through these early season injuries you saw the recipe they are going to have to use on Thursday — a responsible game with strong goaltending. The opponents are about to get significantly tougher than Anaheim, but the formula is there.
Who Is Not
Dominik Kahun — For the first time this season I actually noticed him in a game on Thursday night when he blocked a shot in the defensive zone and turned it into a breakaway, beating John Gibson only to have the puck ring off the post. It was a legitimately great play and something we have not seen enough from him so far. The problem is he has done literally nothing else and the Penguins appear to already be really down on him. Just to get an idea of what they think about his play so far, over the past two games where the forward group has been dealing with a ton of injuries (and at one time or another down to nine or 10 forwards) he has played just 24 minutes. On Tuesday — the night where they were mostly down to only nine forwards — he played just 12 minutes. The only forwards on the team that have played less minutes over the past two games are Alex Galchenyuk (who only played in one of the games and was injured) and the recent call-up duo Adam Johnson and Andrew Agozzino (who have also only played in one of the games). Not giving up on him yet, but he has not provided much of anything through training camp, the preseason, or the first part of the regular season. Right now he looks like a potential mid-season trade chip.
Erik Gudbranson — Definitely not the start anyone wanted for a player that was supposed to play a big part in the defense. When he has played, he has looked more like the Vancouver Erik Gudbranson than the late-season Pittsburgh Erik Gudbranson. When the Penguins went with seven defenders on Tuesday he played just 11 minutes (only Marino logged fewer) and was the odd-man out on Thursday, perhaps offering a window into how they view their current defensive lineup. Personally, I still think I would have scratched Jack Johnson over him and ideally I think their best lineup might feature both Marino and/or Jusso Rikkola or Chad Ruhwedel, but they just do not seem prepared to try that lineup yet.