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5 Thoughts: Letang’s impact, injuries, Bjugstad, and effort

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A random sampling of thoughts about the Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins v Boston Bruins Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

#1 Injuries bite hard

If you click you can see more, the visualization takes the cumulative cap hit game-by-game and the Penguins are running away from the league. That’s no surprise, since they had something like $27 million of salary cap hits earlier in the year (think high price absences like Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Bryan Rust, Alex Galchenyuk) and now still have Patric Hornqvist ($5.3m) on the shelf...Hopefully that doesn’t grow.

#2 Letang

Early word is it may be a groin injury for Kris Letang, but there’s been limited information yet about his status or availability moving forward. The Penguins’ schedule is slack for now, but it really heats up on November 15th. At that point the team plays nine games in 16 days to close the money. They only have five games in the first 14 days of the month of November.

We’ll see what happens, usually one wouldn’t think a groin injury heals in a day or two’s time. The Pens’ missed Letang, when he left they were winning 4-3. Then they gave up a 4-on-4 goal where Letang would have been on the ice, and John Marino was playing in Letang’s spot and started the sequence of Boston’s game winning goal when he missed the net. The Pens’ 6-on-5 offense when they pulled the goalie looked very nonthreatening with Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz just passing it around the perimeter and Marcus Pettersson just standing in traffic high in the zone, unable to present himself as an option.

Unsurprisingly, the Pens missed Letang in all three scenarios down the stretch. Hopefully they won’t miss him for very long.

#3 Sullivan pleased

Mike Sullivan was again upbeat after a loss, as he has often been this season. Really, there’s a lot to like. The Pens might be 0-1-1 in the last two games, but they’re also out-shooting their opponents a whopping 96-54 in all situations. Total 5v5 scoring chances are 48-27 Pens, via Natural Stat Trick. High danger chances are 27-11 in favor of the Pens. In short, they’re doing pretty well but just not getting rewarded by the end of the game.

“This is one of the best games we’ve played all year,” Sullivan said after last night. “We’re playing one of the top teams in the league. You knew they were going to push back. They’ve got some talent on that team, too. I thought our third period was strong. We had zone time, scoring changes. We were making good decisions. I liked our energy. Everybody was involved. I liked our game.”

#4 My kingdom for a save

Well, coach likes the zone time, the scoring chances, the decision making. The energy was good, everyone was playing well. So what went wrong, why did they end up losing?

In a word, goaltending. The Pens’ were getting top-10 5v5 goaltending entering the night. Matt Murray had only surrendered three total goals in his last three games. Unfortunately though, Murray was not good last night from the get go, the first goal he allowed was soft, the second was a broken play/batted puck which is just a tough one to swallow, but the third goal again was to his short-side and though shot by a star is still a save a team needs to have.

Jarry wasn’t much better, barely tested early and couldn’t move laterally enough to stop the game-tying goal, then allowing a long range shot to beat him and got some bad luck it bounced in off his back.

That Pens’ goaltending is now down to 15th in the league, showing it’s a short season and also that their netminders let them down last night. For the most part Murray and Jarry this year have held the team into games they didn’t deserve when they had weaker lineups, and bad nights are bound to happen. But teams that get substandard goaltending don’t usually win many games in the NHL.

#5 Big Bjug

Agree with our pal Jesse here:

Bjugstad sticks out because he’s 6’6 and not really as speedy as many of the other forwards. But he’s also been a steadying force up the middle and will help the team. It seems to have been lost a little that Bjugstad had a great pre-season and was pretty good down the stretch too last season (though his line controlled play, they were unable to finish). But that’s what happens with third lines, they don’t score a point per game. If so, they’d be playing first line.

Bjugstad’s size offers a different dimension, and he is a smart player. The instincts he showed last night to get the breakaway, and then finish, reinforce that. Bjgustad isn’t always going to put up big numbers, but he’s a solid depth option that has value. It isn’t a flashy move but hanging onto him will prove to be a smart play.

It was interesting to see that Sullivan shared in a lot of fan frustration with Bjugstad after Saturday’s game, especially since Sullivan almost never offers a public non-endorsement of players.

“Obviously, we think Nick is capable of playing better than he is at this point,” Sullivan said. “To his defense, he hasn’t played a lot. He’s another guy that’s been out. When you jump back in the lineup, sometimes it takes a little bit of an adjustment process. But we do think he’s capable of more.”

But the Pens have stuck with Bjugstad and he rewarded them with a goal last night. As he works back into game shape and gets up to speed, here’s betting he’ll reward them more down the line.