The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled down a record of 6-4-4 in the month of November 2019, good enough for a tie of 13th place among all NHL teams. In and of itself, that’s pretty decent enough, the team managed to stay relatively treading water in a tough stretch of injuries. That’s the good news.
The bad news is they’re more injured at the beginning of December than ever before, and many of the important reinforcements aren’t expected anytime soon.
Here’s a look at individual performance in the month of November:
It feels like the performance Evgeni Malkin is turning in is getting lost a bit in the weeds or other noise of all the other bits of news and information flying around. Malkin himself returned from injury on November 2nd after missing all but the first four periods of the season. He had to jump right back in, especially since Sidney Crosby was fading out of the lineup, and Malkin has more than done his part.
Throughout the month the Penguins scored 46 goals. Malkin was on the ice for 25 of those goals, earning points in 21 of the goals. This is getting up to the 50ish percent mark, which is NEVER a good thing or a sign of a healthy team, it almost has shades of “Connor McDavid in Edmonton” levels of incompetence where the Pens are a very good team while Malkin is on the ice and able to boost them, but then a very bad team when he is on the bench resting for his next shift.
Of course, there’s a valid reason in Pittsburgh’s case of why this is happening — the team is regularly dealing with having $25-30 million worth against the salary cap of key players not being able to play. A player or coach can’t use injuries as an excuse, but in this case it is a valid reason to observe.
The other standouts this month are no surprise either: Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have been excellent on Malkin’s line. Jared McCann and Dominik Kahun have both been tremendous depth players chipping in from lower lines.
But the real star is rookie John Marino is shining very brightly and has only been getting stronger as the month went along. Kris Letang and Justin Schultz only played together in November in the month’s two first games (Nov 2nd and 4th), since then at least one has been out of the lineup, and for a two games on the 21st and 22nd BOTH were out. Yet due to Marino’s play, the Pens have been able to weather the storm fairly well of having important right shot defenders out of the lineup.
Dominik Simon and Alex Galchenyuk combining for 28-games on the month and only one goal is a big disappointment.
The Marcus Pettersson - Justin Schultz pair continued to struggle when it was healthy, especially since it was compounded by the loss of Letang for most of the month.
Then there’s just the injuries in general as an unavoidable disappointment for how the month went.
- Crosby was out practically the whole month gutting through a bad groin that eventually required surgery
- Patric Hornqvist missed half the month — and troublingly wasn’t as visible or productive when he did play as he was early in the season in October
- Nick Bjugstad can’t stay healthy and didn’t make much of an impact even when he was.
- Letang missed three weeks of the month, Schultz missed two weeks
- Brian Dumoulin went down late in the month and will be out for all of December and probably January too
And, there’s also Matt Murray
At a time where the Pens have needed Murray at his best, he has not been at his best. Some of that is a function of the team’s play in front of him, but there’s no doubt goaltending has been far from a strength this month. And it earned Tristan Jarry more starts, which the numbers bear out as necessary. It will be interesting to see how the goalie splits move going forward, and if Jarry can offer more than Murray was. But even Jarry, like any goalie, isn’t immune to the performance in front of him in the five goals allowed to CBJ on Friday night shows.
It’s a very tough ask for the goaltending to carry a team, especially when key defensemen and other forwards are dropping left and right, but one the Pens need.
Whether it’s a cliche of “treading water” or holding tight or whatever the phrase, the Pens are in rough shape and a tough spot headed into December with the personnel available. Best case scenario is that by month’s end, Crosby could return and give that extra shot of energy and upgrade the team. Getting good news or progression on Rust and Schultz in the near future would be nice too, as well as avoiding even more bodies going to the injury table.