There are two ways of looking at the past week for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On hand, they earned four out of a possible six points on the road and won the most important game of the week outright in regulation. And they did all of that while being without three of their top-four defenders and having to play what is a patchwork blue line where everybody has to play above their heads. Tough circumstances for everyone.
From that perspective, it does not look horrible.
On the other hand, there is no excuse for them to have not won all three games because the two games they lost in overtime (Saturday’s Stadium Series game in Philadelphia, Friday’s game in Buffalo) should have been wins. Even with the injury situation they were in complete control of both games, dominated both games, and were leading with less than five minutes to play. In Philadelphia, that lead was a two-goal lead. In Buffalo, it was against a fading Sabres team that has not done anything in three months.
You have to finish those games at any time of year, but especially in late February/early March when you are fighting to just make the playoffs and everybody else around you keeps on winning.
One thing I will say — Aside from blowing the late leads (a big “yeah, but” ... I know) I don’t hate the way the Penguins have played this week. A couple of weeks ago they were getting the results but the process behind the results sucked. Now the process looks to be there and some of the results are as well ... just not as many as they should be.
Now the Penguins are in a mad scramble to the finish line and the best thing they have going for them is they still kind of control what happens to their season with so many head-to-head games remaining. Those head-to-head matchups will make or break the season, and the next big one is on Saturday night in Montreal. Hold on to your butts.
As for the individual players on the team, let us take a look at who is Hot and who is Not in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Sidney Crosby — He had two points in every game this week, and even though his empty net goal in Columbus was mostly meaningless it was still a great play to strip the puck from a Norris Trophy caliber defender and secure a huge win. And that goal in Buffalo on Friday night? A rocket of a shot while falling down to his butt? Not human.
Patric Hornqvist — I have seen some signs of life from Patric Hornqvist. This is good. This is very good. He is finally back on the scoresheet and he is just, quite simply, more noticeable again. You will never be able to convince me the Penguins did not rush him back sooner than they should have from his latest concussion. Maybe he is finally healthy again.
Justin Schultz — With Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Olli Maatta (and now Chad Ruhwedel) all sidelined the Penguins are obviously going to need a ton from Justin Schultz because, well, he is the one defender left in the lineup that can still probably make a significant impact. Not perfect timing for him given that he is still working his way back from a major injury, but he has played massive minutes this week and played the extremely well. He has a point in every game, is a plus-two, and along with the rest of the remaining blueliners has really helped step up when the team needs them most.
Who Is Not
Phil Kessel — Poor Phil. This guy can not buy a goal right now. No matter what he does, the puck is not going in the net as the goal drought has now reached 14 consecutive games. Here is the good news, though — he is shooting the puck again. A lot. And he is getting closer to actually finding the back of the net again. He has had 18 shots on goal in his past four games and is sooooo close to breaking through and getting back on the scoresheet. Have the sense that once he does, many more goals will follow.
Matt Murray — I am still a Matt Murray guy, and I think he has played a lot better over the past couple of months than he has maybe gotten credit for, but this has been a tough week for him. He made some huge saves in Columbus, and even in Buffalo, too, but the overall numbers for the week are bad, and some of the goals he has let in are ... troubling, specifically the final two goals in Philadelphia and the first goal in Columbus. Those are pucks you have to stop. I am not sure how much I put on him for the tying goal in Buffalo (it still looked like it changed direction), and I know the defense in front of him is missing three key players and an additional depth player, but you can not hide from an .890 save percentage for the week and overlook some of those goals. He needs to be better than he has been this week.