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Grading the Penguins through 20 games

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We dish out grades for individual players at the unofficial quarter-mark of the 2019-20 season

NHL: NOV 16 Maple Leafs at Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you can believe it, the 2019-20 season is basically a quarter over already. The Penguins have 20 games down with a 11-7-2 record that’s only on pace for 98 points, despite some real signs of optimism based on the way they’re playing.

The team has shown a lot of mettle playing through almost every crucial player going down with a significant injury and missing a chunk of time. Let’s dig into how each individual is doing and what grade we’re giving, relative to role, expectation and overall play, through the first quarter of the season.

Stats

Here’s a look from NHL.com on boxcar numbers through 20:

Forwards

Zach Aston-Reese: It feels like he’s left a little on the ice as far as opportunities to score, but Aston-Reese has been a member of a very key line for the Pens that’s done well. Grade: B

Nick Bjugstad: It’s not his fault he’s been injured (twice) but in between Bjugstad drew some rare harsh public comments from coach Mike Sullivan. Add in just one goal and no assists and it’s certainly not the start anyone was looking for in Bjugstad’s first full season in Pittsburgh. Plenty of time to turn it around, but for now it’s not pretty. Grade: D

Teddy Blueger: Blueger leads the forwards in short handed TOI (1:48 per game) and he’s taken over half (45 of 85) of the team’s short handed faceoffs. He’s been a key factor on a great PK, and is on pace for a 25 point season from a mainly fourth line role, in his first full NHL season. Very impressive. Grade: B+

Sidney Crosby: Fighting through groin pain, Crosby did his best to keep the Pens afloat while others were hurt. His first ten games were A+ hockey, then his points dropped off, probably as the injury problem increased. Tough to be too hard on a guy who played 20+ minutes a game in that situation though. Grade: B+

Alex Galchenyuk: The stat that jumps out is 0 goals. There’s a little added context since he missed time to injury and wasn’t quite right early in the season, but even since returning from an injury he’s been more invisible than anything else. Looking for more shot creation and generating more scoring chances. Hasn’t been there yet, but it is a long season. Grade: D+

Jake Guentzel: Leads the team in goals and shots on goal to this point. Is going to continue to need to get a lot of both with all the injury absence. Like Crosby, Guentzel was better in the first ten game segment of the season (5g+5a) then in the last ten games (4g+2a) but he does look like he’s settling into life without Crosby with two points last game against TOR. Grade: B+

Patric Hornqvist: A player with a lot of questions coming into this season after he was battered, beaten up and largely unproductive last season. Hornqvist has answered a lot of those questions looking stronger and better this year than last, before he too suffered a lower body injury that hopefully won’t derail his season. Grade: B

Dominik Kahun: After a slow start, Kahun has really found his stride and found a way to be super-productive despite only averaging 12 minutes per game with 8 points (5g+3a) in his last 8 games. Perhaps he should get a bit more time and opportunity, Kahun’s play (especially as of late) certainly suggests he’s capable of doing good things for the team while out on the ice. Grade: B+

Sam Lafferty: speed and energy has been a shot in the arm and a real saving grace to help patch up a lineup full of injuries. A couple of standout games early in the season (3 point night @MIN, 2 goal night @WIN) have faded a bit so we’ll see how much staying power Lafferty has, but there’s no doubt he’s big time exceeded expectations to this point. Grade: A-

Evgeni Malkin: He’s only got a point per game so far, but has often felt like the best player on the ice for the majority of the games he’s been able to play. Makes for a tough grade, especially with 11 games missed to injury. Malkin knows he’s going to have to be “the man” here for a while with Crosby out, and he’s holding up his end of the bargain so far. Grade: B+

Jared McCann: Another player who has benefited from other injuries to get a bigger role. Whether it’s been center or wing, even strength or power play, top line, second line, third line, McCann has been one of the most consistent, productive and available players on the team. He’s been terrific. Grade: A

Bryan Rust: Only bad thing was the terrible luck of breaking his hand being struck by a puck in a meaningless preseason game to knock him out of the lineup for a while. But he roared back while healthy (compare that to Galchenyuk just sort of sliding along) and Rust’s performance to start his season with 6 goals and 10 points in his first 9 games has to be an absolute best case scenario. Grade: A+

Dominik Simon: As usual, you can see what you want with Simon. He’s supported play and is on pace for 41 points. He also only has 2 goals in 20 games. Pretty much as expected; a player who does little things all over the ice to help, but isn’t going to score a lot. He did have a short very productive stint with Guentzel+Crosby (scoring 2g+6a in 8 games) but has recently gone cold with just one assist in the last 7 games. Grade: C+

Brandon Tanev: Tanev has seamlessly fit onto the Pens team and added everything he’s supposed to. He draws a ton of penalties and kills them off too. He only has 3 goals though (one on an empty net, another that Landeskog tapped in for him) which is a bit underwhelming, but overall a 37 point pace for a 4th liner who adds the extra energy and draws a ton of calls has been a welcome addition in 2019-20. Grade: B+

Defensemen

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Brian Dumoulin: As usual, just a solid, solid player. Good things happen for the Pens while he’s on the ice, he crushes Corsi and Pittsburgh always outscores the opponent too (20-13 at 5v5 so far this year). Ideally there probably could be a bit more juice to squeeze in his own offense generation, but that’s nitpicking. Grade: A-

Jack Johnson: The controversial defenseman has seen his icetime slashed 2 minutes from last season (19:17 to 17:20) and has really done well in a sheltered role. The 5v5 scoring chances against have fallen from a putrid 27+ per 60 minutes last year to 21.2 this year. You can live with that. JJ does have the highest 5v5 goalie save % on the team at .944%, so it is a worry how long the sun will keep shining on him, but hey, for once he’s not actively contributing to goals against so gotta enjoy these good times while they last, even if it’s because he’s now been reduced to a #6D. Grade: B+

John Marino: He’s propped up JJ and made Erik Gudbranson expendable. This kid should get a statue. Playing 18:26 per game as a rookie has been super impressive, his xGF% at near 60% is best on the team. He’s just really exceeded all reasonable expectations from just a couple months ago. Grade: A-

Kris Letang: 25 minutes a night, near a point per game, an insane amount of SOG (55 in 15 games), controlling play with the best Corsi% and xGF rates on the team against top competition. Just normal Letang stuff. Grade: A-

Marcus Pettersson: They’re asking a lot of the still young defender (up to 19-20 minutes a game) and he’s had uneven results. Pettersson-Schultz have been the most generous at scoring chances against/60, but they’re still on the plus side of 50%. Overall some good moments and bad in terms of getting burned for goals against, but Pettersson isn’t sinking in this enhanced role which is very important. Grade: B

Juuso Riikola: Pens only score 1.1 GF/60 while he’s been out there in limited and varied forward/defense looks, but they’ve only given up 1.1 GA/60 too. Looks fine as a No. 7 defender who won’t hurt too much if pressed into service, but isn’t going to add a ton of tangible things either. Grade: B-

Justin Schultz: At just 2.5 GF/60, Schultz ranks only ahead of offensive blackhole Jack Johnson among Penguin defenders. Schultz has also given up the most SCA/60 on the team. It doesn’t felt like he’s hit his stride yet, and he only has 3 power play points in 62 minutes which doesn’t seem like enough either. There are high expectations but also room for improvement. Grade: C+

Goalies

Matt Murray: An unremarkable .913 save%, belied a little by the fact the Pens’ have done a great job suppressing shots this year. Murray’s only seen 427 shots in 937 minutes this season (.46 shots/minute) compared to a .55 shot/minute last year. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s the difference in seeing an average of 27 shots/game this year, compared to 33 last year. Murray’s had a few very bad games and given up some goals he should have stopped, but he’s also been mostly sturdy when called upon, and a 9-4-2 record is a pace of 109 points in the standings if he played every game. Will take that all day long from a starter. Grade: B

Tristan Jarry: Jarry has only given up 7 goals in the 4 games he started (for an eye-popping .947 sav% in games he’s started). And that’s come mostly on 2nd nights of back-to-back situations and against some great competition offensively (WIN, TB, VGK, TOR). Jarry was a bit shaky in his one relief appearance in Boston though, failing to keep the team in the game. Jarry hasn’t been asked to do much, but perhaps that should change a bit, because he’s been very strong when they have given him the opportunity to play. Grade: A-