The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t have their best fastball this week but still managed to come out of it by collecting four out of possible six points. Given the position they’re in (simply trying to secure a playoff spot and hold off the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes), they really aren’t in a position to apologize for how they collect the points right now.
In a lot of ways, the process in how you get the points matters in the big picture, especially when it comes to evaluating whether or not you are a true Stanley Cup contenders. So in that sense, the Penguins’ recent play is a bit of a concern. You shouldn’t be getting caved in on the shot chart against the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers if you have your sights set on winning the Stanley Cup right now. I understand there are other factors at play (injuries, mostly), and we really haven’t seen the actual Penguins roster that they will hopefully be taking in the playoffs (or what the post-trade deadline roster will look like), but I don’t want Matt Murray or any goalie having to face 90 shots every two games.
Still... they need results right now, and this past week they got some and hopefully a little bit of a cushion to start improving the process.
Now for our weekly look at who is hot and who is not.
This is Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Matt Murray — Well, duh. How does this not start with him? Two games this week, 90 shots faced, 88 shots stopped. Ever since returning from injury in mid-December he has been one of the best goalies in the league and playing some of the best hockey of his career. Is this .937 save percentage since Dec. 15 sustainable? No. It is not. That number is going to regress at some point but you can not take away what he has done over the past two months. When he plays like this, the Penguins are nearly unbeatable.
Teddy Blueger — They needed a player like this to come up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and make an impact. He brings some much-needed speed to the lineup, he is a pretty good 200-foot player, and he seems to create chances every single time he is on the ice. He not only deserves to be a regular in the lineup, he has earned a bigger role when he is in there. He got that on Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers and all he did there was score yet another goal ... this time a game-winner in a game where the Penguins badly needed two points.
Bryan Rust — His shorthanded shift against Edmonton that ended with a shorthanded goal was a game-changing shift and also established a new career-high in goals scored in a single season for him. That is remarkable when you consider the season still has more than 20 games remaining, and he only scored one goal in his first 24 games over the first two months of the season. Since then, however, he has been one of the Penguins’ best and most consistent players and has the look of a player whose new contract is going to be a pretty good bargain for the team. A cap hit of $3.5 million for a two-way player that can fit any role on the team and probably score you 15-20 goals over 82 games? Sign me up for that.
Who Is Not
Patric Hornqvist — We should all be worried about whether or not Patric Hornqvist should even be playing. His recent run of concussions and the way he has played since returning from the last one (zero points in 10 games) is just, to say the least, concerning. I have much respect for the player, the way he plays, his tenacity, and his consistent effort, but it’s really unlike him to have a run like this. Something is off.
Phil Kessel — A lot of it has probably been the absence of Evgeni Malkin and not really having much to work with at center, but Kessel has just one point (an assist) in his past six games and has not recorded more than one shot on goal in any of those games. Overall, he has just five shots over that stretch. Not great! Kessel is the best pure shooter on the roster and they need him getting as many pucks on net as he possibly can. I try not to make a big deal about players like him going through scoring slumps or scoring droughts because they happen to every player, no matter how good or great they are, every single season. Nobody is consistent in their production over 82 games. Sometimes the puck just does not go in the net for you. But it is definitely not going to go in the net if you do not even put it on the net.
Tanner Pearson — Not trying to jump to conclusions here but I just do not see this one working out. I know he scored a late goal against Tampa Bay, and that was a badly needed goal for him, but you just never notice Tanner Pearson over the course of a game. In some ways that is good (he does not make too many glaring mistakes). In many ways that is bad because, well, he never really does anything positive. Last year over at NBC I wrote about the Kings’ roster being in need of an overhaul and specifically mentioned how their best “young” players were Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and that neither one of them were really anything to build a team around. They were just ... guys. A few months into his Penguins tenure and getting a chance to watch him up close nothing about that opinion has changed. This is going to be the contract everyone thought Bryan Rust’s contract was going to be in October and November. Assuming he does not get shipped out in June. Or in the next two weeks.