New rule for the rest of the 2018-19 season: If you are going to complain about the way Evgeni Malkin is playing, has played, or will play you have to watch the past three games without him on a continuous loop until you scream for mercy and can not physically take any more.
Not that Malkin’s absence is the only reason for the current three-game slide (overall they have lost seven of their past 10 games, and of the three wins they have during that stretch only one came in regulation) but when Matt Cullen is playing 18 minutes as the second-line center, as he did on Thursday night, not many good things are going to be happening for your team.
Now the Penguins are back to the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference entering the weekend and have two more tough games on the horizon against the Tampa Bay Lightning and a suddenly streaking Philadelphia Flyers team that might actually have a goalie.
Still a lot of work to do.
While the Penguins as a team are most definitely not hot, let’s take a look at the individual players that are hot and not.
Who Is Up
Garrett Wilson — Maybe this is a testament to the way the rest of the team is playing that Garrett Wilson is the first name that pops into my head when I try to think of who is playing well at the moment, but I kind of like the way he is playing. He doesn’t deserve a goal because he is nearly 60 games into his career without one, he deserves a goal because he has played really well lately in his role and created a surprisingly large number of chances in his limited ice time.
Jared McCann — I have a theory about this trade. That theory is that Jared McCann is truly the player the Penguins wanted and taking on Nick Bjugstad’s contract was simply the price required to getting him, and that there is a 0.1% chance that Bjugstad actually finishes his current contract with the Penguins. McCann is also the one that has stood out the most so far since the trade. He had the shorthanded goal on Thursday night, and I thought he was one of the few players that showed any jump in the shutout loss to Carolina. He almost scored a highlight reel goal on a ridiculous dangle in the first period only to get stopped on a scorpion save by Curtis McElhinney.
Who Is Not
The Power Play — The whole thing. The unit is only 1-for-8 this month and Thursday’s performance in Florida was particularly dreadful. On their first attempt they spent more than a minute without the puck and actually defending in their own zone, and then opened the second period with an extended 5-on-3 advantage and failed to score. Not having Malkin out there is obviously a pretty big loss but there should still be enough talent out there to make something happen. And the group just has not looked particularly dangerous lately.
Phil Kessel — It has been a rough week for Phil Kessel. He has zero points during the three-game losing streak, his 30 percent(!!!) Corsi mark over the past four games is the worst on the team, he is getting pummeled in the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance departments, and his overtime performance on Thursday night in Florida was just ... odd. Twice he had wide open looks with an opportunity to take a shot to win the game, and twice he instead deferred to Nick Bjugstad. After doing that he lost his man in the defensive zone who then went on to score the game-winning goal. Kessel is a great playmaker and it is his most underrated skill, but he still needs to be a shoot-first player. I think I get why he was trying to set up Bjugstad (get him the overtime winner against his former team) but you are Phil Kessel. You are probably a Hall of Famer. You are one of the best goal scorers of your era. Take the shot. Especially the second time after it did not work the first time.
Tanner Pearson — As I wrote about on Monday the Penguins need more out of this guy. Actually, forget “more,” they just simply need something out of this guy because right now he is simply an empty roster spot. He has one shot on goal in his past five games. ONE! He has not scored a goal in 10 games, he does not have a point in eight games. He played only eight minutes on Thursday, and over the past five games he has attempted only three shots with, again, only one of them reaching the net. In three of those five games he has not even attempted a single shot. How is that even possible? He has two more years at more than $3.75 million remaining on his contract. Who wants to bet he finishes that contract wearing a Penguins jersey? The early returns are not great.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)